Local Contractor May Be Sentenced To Prison Term
SANTA CLARA — A Contractors State License Board (CSLB) investigation has led to a guilty plea from a local contractor who had been charged with 16 felony and misdemeanor violations by the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office. Joseph Anthony Nervina, doing business as Scotts Valley Deck & Fence, is scheduled to be sentenced in San Jose on August 27 and could receive a prison term of up to eight years. On June 25, 2002, Nervina pleaded guilty to perjury, grand theft, diversion of construction funds, fraudulent use of a contractor's license number, and contracting without a license.
The CSLB most recently began receiving complaints against Nervina in March of 2000; however, that was not his first experience with law enforcement. In 1989, he was cited by the CSLB for contracting without a license and fined $4,500. He received his contractor's license later that year, but it was revoked by the CSLB in 1992 for multiple charges of job abandonment and poor workmanship. In 1991, as part of the same case, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office filed criminal charges against Nervina, who pleaded guilty and was ordered to pay restitution. When he failed to pay restitution, he served two years of a four-year jail sentence.
The CSLB denied Nervina's application for a new license in 2000 because he was suspected of committing perjury by falsifying his application. He stated he had no prior citations from the CSLB and that he had not been convicted of any offense, despite the fact that the CSLB had issued him a citation, revoked a previous license, and he served jail time.
Most recently, Nervina illegally entered into contracts with consumers and proceeded to take large down payments, take money before work was done, divert payments, perform work below industry standards, then abandon projects altogether. All the while, he strung consumers along with excuses about cost overruns, unpaid workers, and his own poor health.
"The CSLB is gratified that this unscrupulous operator will be disciplined. His tactics are the kind that consumers need to be alert and wary about. I urge all consumers to check with the CSLB before hiring a contractor," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands.
In one case, Nervina agreed to erect a new deck for $30,000 on a Los Gatos hillside home. He took an excessive down payment and a total of $26,000 for work valued at less than that.
This case illustrates some of the most common complaints that the CSLB receives against unscrupulous contractors. Nervina asked for and received a large down payment and money for work that had not been completed. By law, a down payment cannot be more than 10 percent of the contract price or $1,000, whichever is less. Written contracts must include a payment schedule that sets forth payments as work is completed.
Additionally, Nervina claimed he needed money up front to pay his workers or to purchase materials. Contractors should have the capital and the credit to pay employees and purchase materials as needed.
Finally, Nervina was working without a contractor's license. Most of the homeowners who complained about Nervina realized too late that a check with the CSLB would have revealed that he had no license, had a revoked license in the past, and was illegally using another contractor's license number.
"By checking contractors before hiring them, consumers can find out if the contractors are licensed, verify business names and addresses, and determine if there are any legal actions against licenses. Tips on how to hire a contractor and manage the construction process are also available from the CSLB," added Sands.
The CSLB urges consumers to follow these tips when hiring any contractor:
- Hire only licensed contractors
- Get a written contract
- Do not pay more than 10 percent down or $1,000, whichever is less
- Do not let payments get ahead of the work
- Verify the contractor's license with the CSLB at www.cslb.ca.gov
- Verify the license owner, business name and address
- Get three bids and check references
- Do not pay cash.
The Contractors State License Board, which operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs, licenses 278,000 contractors in California and investigates 25,000 complaints against licensed and unlicensed contractors annually.
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