State Contractors Board Targets Unlicensed Operators in Marin County Undercover Operation
Arrests of felons, including convicted sex offender, highlight dangers of hiring illegal operators
SAN RAFAEL — The following are the results of Day One of a two-day enforcement operation conducted in Marin County by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB). On Day One, CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT), in cooperation with the San Rafael Police Department, posed as homeowners and invited suspected unlicensed contractors to a sting house to bid on various jobs ranging from landscaping and tree trimming to concrete, flooring and painting. The purpose of these operations, which are held statewide on an almost weekly basis, is to highlight the dangers to consumers who hire unlicensed workers, and to educate unlicensed workers about California laws.
SWIFT investigators caught a total of 14 unlicensed contractors in Wednesday's undercover sting. Four of those operators also had felony arrest warrants, including a registered sex offender from the state of Virginia. Another was on probation after being convicted of contracting without a license in 2004.
|Suspect, Age, City of Residence||Warrant Information|
|Toutai Olepu Havea
|Arrest Warrant from Marin County
Contracting w/o a License
|Jerry Campbell Leith
|1992: Contractor's License Revoked
2004: Convicted of Contracting w/o a License
Currently on Probation
|Lester Gene Nicholson
|Registered Sex Offender
Not Registered with California Law Enforcement
|Filisione John Takapu
|Arrest Warrant from Contra Costa County
Contracting w/o a License
Nine of the operators were given "Notices to Appear" (NTA) before a Marin County Superior Court judge on December 7 to answer misdemeanor charges of contracting without a license and for advertising violations. The charges carry a maximum of six months in jail or a $1,000 fine for the first offense. A second violation carries a mandatory 90-day jail sentence. On Wednesday, three Administrative Citations were also issued and two cases are pending criminal referrals.
By law, all contractors who perform work that totals $500 or more (labor and materials) must be licensed by the CSLB. In addition, anyone licensed by the CSLB after January 1, 2005 first undergoes a complete background check by the Dept. of Justice before being given a license. "Homeowners need to be careful before inviting any contractor into their house," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "Always check out their license first." Also, because many unlicensed operators don't comply with the workers compensation laws, they often submit lower bids on jobs. But, if one of their workers is injured on the job, the homeowner could be considered liable. And, if a deal goes bad with an unlicensed contractor, the homeowner has very few options.
Before hiring any contractor, homeowners should go online or call CSLB's automated phone system to verify that he/she holds a valid license. They can also check out the contractor's license history and get bond and personnel information.
The CSLB urges consumers to follow these tips when dealing with a building contractor:
- Hire only licensed contractors and ask to see the license;
- Don't rush into decisions and don't hire the first contractor who comes along;
- Be especially hesitant when approached by someone offering home improvement services door-to-door, especially when they will use material they claim is left over from another job;
- 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;
- Get three bids, check references, and a written contract; and
- 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 292,000 contractors, and investigates more than 20,000 complaints against contractors annually. In fiscal year 2004-05, the CSLB helped consumers get more than $36 million in restitution.
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