CSLB Stings Phony Contractors Trying to Get Work in Lake Tahoe Fire Disaster Area
Five face felony charges after Independence Day Operation
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) surprised a number of unlicensed operators trying to get work in the Lake Tahoe (Angora) Fire Disaster Area during an undercover sting operation conducted on Independence Day (July 4th). Five unlicensed operators were arrested and taken to jail for contracting without a license.
The undercover sting was conducted by the CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) in cooperation with the California Department of Insurance, El Dorado County District Attorney's Office and El Dorado County Sheriff's Office, and is meant to send a very clear dual message.
"We want homeowners in the fire area to know that unlicensed and unscrupulous operators may try to make them a victim a second time," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "We also want the unlicensed operators know that we will be aggressive in keeping you out of the disaster area."
Contracting for work in a state or federally declared disaster area that is more than $500 (Labor and Materials) without a valid California contractor's license is a felony. Punishment may include a fine of up to $10,000 and/or up to 16 months in state prison. None of the five people arrested is from the South Lake Tahoe area. Two were from Sutter County, two were from Gardnerville, Nevada, and one was from Placerville. Three vehicles were also impounded.
In yesterday's operation, SWIFT members posed as homeowners whose house was destroyed during last week's fire. They invited suspected unlicensed contractors to bid on debris removal and various reconstruction projects.
In addition to the five arrests, the CSLB also administered two administrative citations: one for a licensed contractor who was using an unregistered salesperson to solicit work; the other was for a tree trimmer who was registered with the California Department of Forestry to work on state land, but not on private property. Each citation included a $750 penalty.
Unlicensed operators are part of a multi-million dollar underground economy that takes jobs away from legitimate contractors, and tax dollars from schools, roads and law enforcement. Illegal operators rarely have workers' compensation or liability insurance. Homeowners have little recourse if something goes wrong with an unlicensed operator.
Many times phony contractors, who are skirting the law by not being licensed, have problems with the law in other areas. "It is not unusual to find people with criminal backgrounds trying to sell themselves as a contractor," said Sands. "Homeowners may think they are saving money by hiring someone who is unlicensed. But you never know what type of individuals you are inviting into your home and what their real motives are."
The CSLB has had investigators in the fire area since June 26th, meeting victims and conducting almost daily sweep operations. CSLB staff are also in the process of placing dozens of signs in the fire area, warning consumers about unlicensed and unscrupulous contractors who may prey on them, and warning these operators that they will face felony charges if they're caught.
Homeowners are getting Information on how they can protect themselves by using CSLB's resources to check a contractor's license status and history, and by following a series of important tips. "Avoid the urge to rush into repairs with the first contractor you meet, especially if they just show up without an invitation," said Sands. "Spend just a few minutes checking the contractor out with CSLB to make sure they're licensed."
The CSLB urges consumers to follow these tips as well:
- Be especially hesitant when approached by someone offering home improvement services door-to-door.
- 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.
- Check references, get three bids and a written contract.
- Contact the CSLB if you have a complaint against a contractor
Learn more by visiting the CSLB's Disaster Help Center at www.cslb.ca.gov; or by calling the CSLB Disaster Hotline. The line is open for disaster victims to call Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm at 1-800-962-1125.
|Name||Age||City of Residence||Charges|
|Chase Rossier||27||Yuba City||B&P 7028,7028.16, 7027.1|
|Steve Killion||47||Yuba City||B&P 7028,7028.16, 7027.1|
|Kurt Kimm||40||Placerville||B&P 7028,7028.16, 7027.1|
|William Tanner||33||Gardnerville, NV||B&P 7028,7028.16, 7027.1
Labor Code 3700.5(DOI)
|Troy Meadows||37||Gardnerville, NV||B&P 7028,7028.16, 7027.1
Labor Code 3700.5(DOI)
In the days and weeks ahead, CSLB will continue to partner with local, state and other government agencies to conduct enforcement stings and sweeps in and around the disaster area.
Contractors working on any job - from debris removal to roof repair to rebuilding - totaling $500 or more for labor and materials must be licensed by the CSLB. To become licensed, a contractor must pass a licensing examination, verify at least four years of journey-level experience and pass a criminal background check. California contractors must carry a license bond, and provide workers' compensation insurance for their employees. A homeowner could be at risk if workers who aren't covered have an accident while on their property.
The Contractors State License Board operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. The CSLB licenses and regulates California's 310,000 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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