Contractors Board Makes First Felony Arrest in Declared Disaster Area
SAN DIEGO — The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) today announced its first felony arrests of three unlicensed contractors for working illegally in one of the declared Southern California wildfire disaster areas.
One of the three illegal contractors is a repeat offender who has been cited previously by the CSLB for contracting without a license and is currently on probation. He was arrested, booked and charged with felony and misdemeanor violations. Two other unlicensed contractors were arrested — one was booked, the other was released on his own recognizance. All three were arrested for felony contracting without a license in a declared disaster area, false advertising, and misrepresentation of a license. The CSLB has filed the charges with the San Diego County District Attorney's Office and is recommending prosecution against the three.
The arrests came during an undercover sting operation conducted in the Lakeside area on December 5 by CSLB and the multi-jurisdictional Disaster Fraud Management Taskforce. The taskforce is made up of investigators from CSLB, the Department of Insurance, local district attorney's office, and local law enforcement. This sting is the first in a series of undercover operations that will be conducted in the coming months in the declared wildfire disaster areas.
It is a felony to contract without a license in a declared disaster area, and these arrests underscore the fact that illegal contractors are operating in these communities. CSLB is also warning wildfire victims about the dangers of hiring unlicensed contractors and advising them that they can protect themselves by using CSLB's resources to check a contractor's license status and history.
Taskforce investigators invited suspected unlicensed contractors to a secret sting location, in this case, a home that had been damaged by recent wildfires. Two of the arrested phony contractors were advertising on the Internet, and the third was advertising on a community bulletin board. When they bid on demolition jobs — ranging in price from $7,000-10,000 — and were found to be unlicensed, they were arrested. They could face a maximum of 16 months in state prison and be fined up to $10,000.
Unscrupulous, unlicensed contractors often prey on victims of natural disasters, and the CSLB has found that some of them take advantage of homeowners who are anxious to rebuild.
Anyone who contracts for or bids on a job that totals $500 or more (labor and materials) must hold a contractors license from the CSLB. There are exceptions, including working as an employee of a licensed contractor or taking jobs that are valued at less than $500.
To become licensed, one must submit an application for review, verify four years of journey level experience in the trade to be licensed (general, plumbing, etc.), pass a two-part examination (trade and business/law), secure a license bond, and provide workers' compensation insurance for employees. The entire process can take up to six months.
Consumers can check a contractors license on CSLB's Web site, www.cslb.ca.gov, to find out if the contractors license is active and in the right classification for the work to be done. You can also verify that the business name and address are correct, whether there is workers' compensation insurance coverage for employees, and find out if the Board has taken disciplinary action against the license or if there are any disclosable complaints against the contractor.
The CSLB urges consumers to follow these tips when dealing with a building contractor:
- Hire only licensed contractors and ask to see the license
- Get three bids, check references, and get a written contract
- Don't rush into repairs, no matter how badly they're needed
- Verify the contractor's license at www.cslb.ca.gov or (800) 321-CSLB
- For restoration and repair, don't pay more than 10% down or $1,000, whichever is less. There is no down payment restriction for new construction
- Don't pay cash, and don't let the payments get ahead of the work.
The Contractors State License Board operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. The CSLB licenses and regulates California's 278,000 contractors, and investigates 25,000 complaints against contractors annually.
Note to Editors: B-roll footage (beta and VHS) and digital photos of the sting are available by request. Interviews with CSLB investigators are also available by appointment. Contact Tracey Weatherby at (916) 255-4161.
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