Phony Contractors Stung in Los Angeles County Undercover Operation
Contractors State License Board teams with L.A. County Sheriff's Dept. to make arrests
SACRAMENTO — A house in Montrose turned out to have a revolving door of phony contractors Wednesday as the Contractors State License Board's (CSLB) Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) conducted an undercover sting operation. A total of 19 people were arrested.
The sting was held with the support of the Cresentia Valley Station of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. SWIFT members and sheriff's deputies posed as homeowners after inviting suspected unlicensed operators to the sting location to bid on various home improvement jobs ranging from landscaping, concrete and sprinkler installation to painting, tile, cabinet work and flooring. When the bids exceeded the legal limit of $500 (labor & materials), the phony contractors were arrested.
A special focus was placed on individuals with outstanding arrest warrants, those who previously were caught contracting without a license and those who had illegal advertisements in newspapers and mailers. By law, contractors must put their state license number in all advertisements. Unlicensed operators must list in their ads that they do not have a state license.
Two people who had outstanding arrest warrants were taken to jail. John Bankhead of Inglewood had $36,000 in arrest warrants for driving with a suspended license and for contracting without a license. Arthur Bean of Los Angeles had $95,000 in arrest warrants for driving with a suspended license and other traffic violations. Bankhead and 17 others were given Notices to Appear (NTA) before a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge to face misdemeanor charges. An NTA carries a maximum six months in jail and/or up to $1,000 fine for a first-time conviction. The 17 were released after promising to appear in court. In addition, criminal follow-up investigations will be conducted on five of the cases; administrative follow-ups will be conducted on seven cases.
"The CSLB is serious about going after people who break the law and put consumers in danger," said CSLB Registar Steve Sands. "Homeowners need to know the huge risk they're taking when they let these phony contractors into their home or when they hire them." It's not unusual for unlicensed operators to have violent criminal backgrounds, a drug problem, or to take a consumer's money and abandon the project.
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 pocket card and a picture I.D. 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. By law, an unlicensed operator can only contract for jobs under $500 (labor & materials).
Consumers should 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 as a down payment;
- Don't pay cash, and don't let the payments get ahead of the work;
- Don't pay for materials before they're delivered; and
- Get three bids, check references, and a written contract
An unusual note from Wednesday's sting, one of the phony contractors had a $605 arrest warrant for failing to have a license for his dog.
The Contractors State License Board operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. The CSLB licenses and regulates California's 302,000 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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