Contractor Accused Of Home Repair Fraud

Bob Easter had doubts about using his general contracting skills to help Joseph Gately and a company called Hurricane Relief Corps. But it was November. And Easter had a family back in Ohio to support. So he came to Mississippi and took a chance by joining Gately's team. It was a chance Easter now calls a big mistake.

"I just wanted to wash my hands of it and move on," Easter said. "Our concern never really has been with him. Our concern has been the people."

People like Patience Harris.

"I am in shock," the 67 year old woman said outside the St. John AME Church in Biloxi.

Harris had copies of a $55,000 contract she signed, and a $55,000 check she gave Gately in February. Yet, she said he never repaired any of the damage at her Bellman Avenue home.

"I don't know. I never would have thought this would have happened to me," she said.

According to investigators in the Attorney General's new fraud office, many of the people who met with Gately here in east Biloxi, over in west Gulfport and Ocean Springs became victims. They allegedly gave Gately up to $150,000 to do hurricane repair work he never completed.

In February, when Bob Easter looked into a mirror and realized what was going on, he quit, and so did several other contractors.

"I don't know how you can take advantage of someone like that," he said, referring to the 30-40 victims who claim to have been targeted by Gately.

Gately is the head of Hurricane Relief Corps. He's been accused of two counts of embezzlement and home repair fraud. While he sits in jail, his former employees are trying to repair the promises made to unsuspecting hurricane victims.

"We want to help these people," Easter said. "We're embarrassed we were part of an organization that apparently has taken advantage of these people. If we had the money, we'd be down here for free and help them everyday."

Besides the embezzlement and home repair fraud charges, Joseph Gately is also accused of failing to register as a convicted felon, and being a fugitive from justice. Authorities say he's wanted in California on burglary and grand larceny charges.