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CSLB Press Release - 06/27/2008

Dozens of Illegal Operators Caught in Redondo Beach Sting by Contractors State License Board

Elder Abuse suspect among those arrested in joint operation with Redondo Beach Police

REDONDO BEACH, CA — A man suspected of taking more than $100,000 from an elderly victim was among those nabbed by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) in a sting operation that was conducted in cooperation with the Redondo Beach Police Department and District Attorney's office this week.

Members of CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) posed as homeowners during the two-day operation on June 25 and June 26, 2008. The SWIFT team invited more than 50 suspects to the sting house, who bid on projects that included masonry, painting, concrete and rain gutters. When suspects offered bids over $500, they were cited. California law requires a state contractor's license for home improvement jobs that are valued at $500 or more in material and labor. Thirty-two (32) of the suspects were given a notice to appear (NTA) for illegal contracting and/or illegal advertising.

Investigators gather their leads from illegal advertisements, consumer complaints, and tips from licensed, legitimate contractors. Santos Victorino Membreno, doing business as Victor the Plumber, had an existing CSLB complaint of financial elder abuse filed against him. He received an invitation to the sting, where he was booked on a warrant for driving without a license. The 43-year-old, of Los Angeles, was also cited for contracting without a license, illegal advertising, and illegally excessive down payments. (Business & Professions Code 7027.1(a), 7028(a), 7159.5(a) (3))

"Suspects who are caught in the Board's sting operations usually have other legal problems," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "Homeowners are taking serious risks when they use unlicensed people for work on their property. This latest operation emphasizes the fact that it pays to hire licensed contractors."

The remaining suspects bid on regular home improvement projects and were charged with contracting without a license and illegal advertising. These are usually misdemeanor charges and carry a potential sentence of up to six months in jail and/or a $500 fine. The penalties increase with each conviction.

The majority of the suspects have a hearing date scheduled for August 6 and 7, 2008, at the Los Angeles County Superior Court in Torrance. Unlicensed operators are part of a multi-billion dollar underground economy that takes jobs away from legitimate contractors, and tax dollars from schools, roads and law enforcement. Illegal operators rarely have workers' compensation or liability insurance. Homeowners have little recourse if something goes wrong with an unlicensed operator.

The CSLB urges consumers to follow these tips when hiring a contractor:

  • Be especially hesitant when approached by someone offering home improvement services door-to-door.
  • Verify the contractor's license by checking online or via CSLB's automated phone service at 1-800-321-CSLB (2752)
  • Don't pay more than 10% down or $1,000, whichever is less.
  • Don't pay cash, and don't let the payments get ahead of the work.
  • Check references; get three bids and a written contract.
  • Contact the CSLB if you have a complaint against a contractor.

The Contractors State License Board operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. The CSLB licenses and regulates California's 316,000 contractors, and investigates more than 20,000 complaints against contractors annually. In fiscal year 2006-07, the CSLB helped consumers get almost $45 million in ordered restitution.

Sting Operation Details:

  • 32 NTA's (Notice to Appear)
  • 8 Suspects booked and taken to jail (6: no identification, 1: misdemeanor warrant for driving with suspended license, 1: CSLB felony case (no warrant - Penal Code Section 484b.)
  • 2 Suspects cited by police for driving with expired licenses
  • 2 suspect vehicles towed
  • 2 previously -cited suspects showed up and were cited again