More than Three Dozen Illegal Operators Caught in Contractors Board High Desert Sting Operation
Licensed contractors support action against unfair competition
SACRAMENTO — Thirty-eight unlicensed people posing as contractors were caught in undercover sting operations concentrated this week high desert area of San Bernardino County. The two day action took in Hesperia on Wednesday October 25 and Spring Valley Lake on Thursday October 26. The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) conducted the operations with support from the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, Victorville Police, Victorville Code Enforcement and the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office.
The CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) members posed as homeowners and invited suspects to the two different sting locations to bid on various home improvement jobs ranging from tile work, landscaping, window treatments and iron work. The individuals targeted included those who advertise illegally in newspapers and flyers. When the bids exceeded the legal limit of $500 (labor & materials) and they acted illegally "in the capacity as a contractor" they were arrested. The suspects came from as far away as Escondido.
The phony contractors (17 in Hesperia; 21 in Spring Valley Lake) were given a Notice to Appear (NTA) before a San Bernardino County Superior Court judge December 27 to face misdemeanor charges. The NTA carries a maximum six months in jail and/or up to $1,000 fine for a first-time conviction. One man was arrested and taken to jail on a $20,000 warrant for failure to appear in court for a "Driving Under the Influence" arrest and his truck was impounded.
The CSLB conducts stings almost every week in some part of the state. Local licensed contractors and members of the business community were strongly behind this operation because of the unfair competition they face from unlicensed individuals who underbid them on jobs. Unlicensed operators rarely pay taxes, workers' compensation insurance and other costs that legitimate contractors face. They are part of a $60 to $140 billion dollar underground economy that takes money away from roads, schools and law enforcement.
"The CSLB and our partners are serious about going after people who break the law." said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "Homeowners face a high financial risk if something goes wrong with an unlicensed operator and legitimate business people have a hard time competing against people who are cheating."
The CSLB urges homeowners to be careful before inviting any contractor into their house or agreeing to have any work done. Ask to see their state contractor's license and go online or call CSLB's automated phone system to verify that the license is valid. 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)
- Never 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; and
- Get three bids, check references, and a written contract
The Contractors State License Board operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. The CSLB licenses and regulates California's 304,000 contractors, and investigates more than 20,000 complaints against contractors annually. In fiscal year 2005-06, the CSLB helped consumers get more than $36 million in restitution.
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