Welcome to the State of California

CSLB Press Release - 01/22/13

Former Unlicensed Contractor Helps CSLB Sting His Competition

Investigators use tip to catch phony contractor with arrest warrant at undercover sting in Merced


SACRAMENTO — Jose De Jesus Escobar showed up at a house near Merced College on a chilly morning last week to give homeowners a bid for landscaping work. But, instead of getting the job he bid $3,600 for, Escobar got a free ride to jail.

Escobar was one of four suspects to get a notice to appear (NTA) after getting caught in an undercover sting by investigators from the Contractors State License Board’s (CSLB) Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT), in partnership with the Merced County District Attorney’s Office.

CSLB investigators were tipped to Escobar by a former illegal contractor, who’s now operating legally as a licensed contractor. Escobar was taken to jail on a no-bail arrest warrant from Colusa County for violating probation after a driving under the influence conviction.

In the sting operation, conducted January 17, 2013, CSLB investigators, posing as homeowners, sought bids for landscaping, warm-air heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC), and painting projects.

Four suspects, including Escobar, received notices to appear in court to face a misdemeanor charge of contracting without a license (Business and Professions Code section 7028). Home improvement projects valued at $500 or more in labor and materials must be done by a state-licensed contractor. Three of the four will face an additional misdemeanor charge or illegal advertising (Business and Professions Code section 7027.1). California law requires contractors to put their license number in all advertisements. Those who contract for jobs valued at less than $500 may advertise their services, but their ads must state that they are not a licensed contractor. Two suspects were contacted through their ads on craigslist.org.

All four suspects were issued stop orders, (Business and Professions Code section 7127), prohibiting them from using employee labor for any jobs until they secure a workers’ compensation insurance policy.

Additionally, Abelino Mauro Lopez-Ramos was cited for requesting an excessive down payment (Business and Professions Code section 7159.5 (a)(3)(b)). State law prohibits asking for or receiving down payments larger than 10 percent of the contract price or $1,000, whichever is less. Lopez-Ramos submitted bid for a new HVAC system that totaled more than $4,000, and asked for 50% down.

"It only takes a few minutes for homeowners to make sure the person they’re considering to do work on their property is properly licensed," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "CSLB’s instant license check would have shown that the people caught in this sting didn’t have a valid license."

The following suspects are scheduled to be arraigned on March 13, 2013, at 8:15 a.m. at the Merced County Superior Court, 2260 N Street (Map):

SUSPECT'S NAME

BUSINESS NAME

CITY OF RESIDENCE

LICENSE CLASSIFICATION
VIOLATIONS
Emilliano Garcia Rojas

Emilliano Garcia Landscaping

Merced

C-27 - Landscaping Contracting without a license

Illegal advertising

No workers' compensation insurance

Stop order issued

Jose De Jesus Escobar

Jesse’s Tree Service

Madera

C-27 - Landscaping Contracting without a license

Illegal advertising

No workers' compensation insurance

Stop order issued

Lucas Benjamin Sanchez

Winton

C-33 - Painting and Decorating Contracting without a license

Stop order issued

Abelino Mauro Lopez-Ramos

Express Repair

Winton

C-20 - Heating and Air Conditioning Contracting without a license

Illegal advertising

Requesting excessive down payment

Stop order issued



CSLB urges consumers to follow these tips before hiring anyone to work on their property:

  • Hire only state-licensed contractors and ask to see their license and a photo ID to verify their identity.
  • Always check the license number at CSLB's website, or www.CheckTheLicenseFirst.com to make sure the license is in good standing, and that employees are covered by workers' compensation insurance.
  • Don't pay more than 10 percent or $1,000, whichever is less, as a down payment. There is an exception for about two dozen licensees who carry special bonds to protect consumers. These exceptions are noted on CSLB's website.
  • Don't pay in cash, and don't let payments get ahead of the work.
  • Get at least three bids, check references, and get a written contract with signed change orders for any additions or amendments to the contract.

The Contractors State License Board licenses and regulates California's 300,000 contractors, operating under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. It is regarded as one of the leading consumer protection agencies in the United States. In fiscal year 2011-12, CSLB helped recover nearly $36 million in ordered restitution for consumers. More information and publications about hiring contractors are available on CSLB's website or by calling (800) 321-CSLB (2752). You also can sign up to receive automatic CSLB email alerts.