Phony Contractors Caught in Los Banos Sting Operation
Contractors State License Board conducts undercover operation in Merced County
SACRAMENTO — The second story above an old restaurant and bar on "I" Street in downtown Los Banos was the sting location for a dozen illegal contractors who were lured by the idea of easy money. Members of the Contractors State License Board's (CSLB) Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) posed as property owners and invited the suspected illegal operators to bid on various projects that included painting, drywall and other repairs.
The enforcement action was conducted on Tuesday (February 27) in cooperation with the Merced County District Attorney's Office. The sting resulted in the arrest of nine unlicensed operators. They were given "Notices to Appear" (NTA) before a Merced County Superior Court judge to answer to misdemeanor charges of contracting without a license and for advertising violations. Seven of the nine were released. Two were taken to jail for not having identification.
The CSLB conducts these undercover operations on a weekly basis in various locations around the state. The idea is to educate consumers about the dangers of hiring unlicensed operators and to help level the playing field for the more than 300,000 licensed contractors in the state. "Take the time to check out a contractor before you hire them for any projects around the house," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "Make sure they are who they say they are, and that they are licensed and qualified to do the job."
Because many unlicensed operators don't comply with the workers compensation laws, they often submit lower bids on jobs. But, if a worker 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.
By law, all contractors who perform work that totals $500 or more (labor and materials) must be licensed by the CSLB. First-time convictions carry a maximum of six months in jail or a $1,000 fine. A second violation carries a mandatory 90-day jail sentence.
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)
- 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;
- 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 308,000 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.
Los Banos Sting Operation
- February 27, 2007
- 2 Arrests
- 9 NTAs (Notice to Appear)
- 2 Administrative Citations
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