Visalia Contracting Extortion Plot Broken Up in Joint Investigation
Contractors State License Board and Tulare County District Attorney team up
SACRAMENTO — The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) and the Tulare County District Attorney's Office cracked a case and arrested two unlicensed operators this week who were attempting to extort money from a senior citizen constructing a commercial project.
The investigation involved a 68 year-old Visalia resident who hired two men to grade and prepare the foundation for a new automotive repair mall project. The suspects, identified as Jerry Collins age 48, of Exeter and George D. Walker age 49, of Visalia, said they would demolish, clean, and grade the area for the new "Cain Street Plaza" located near Cain and Main Streets in Visalia for about $60,000. They later raised their price to 50% above the original agreed upon amount.
One of the suspects demanded an additional $25,000 while threatening to place a "Mechanics Lien" on the victim's property. The suspect, George Walker, eventually acted on his threat and filed false information with the Tulare County Recorders Office to get a "Mechanics Lien" placed on the property. The victim faced even more demands for another $10,000 while the suspects continued to work on the project without the required state contractor's license.
Undercover Investigators working on the case posed as additional investors. They met both suspects at a local restaurant on Monday where they were presented with similar extortion demands. Only this time, both men were arrested and booked into the Tulare County Jail on multiple charges including elder abuse, extortion, unlicensed contracting and conspiracy. The subjects were taken to the Tulare County Jail pending $50,000 in bail.
By law, all contractors who perform work that totals $500 or more (labor and materials) must be licensed by the CSLB. "Our partners, like the Tulare County District Attorney's office have been very pro-active in going after unlicensed activity," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "Property owners may think they are saving money by hiring someone who is unlicensed. But you never know what kind of individuals you are hiring and what their real motives are."
The CSLB urges consumers to follow these tips when dealing with any contractor:
- 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)
- Get three bids, check references, and a written contract;
- Never pay more than 10% 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; 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 314,000 contractors, and investigates more than 20,000 complaints against contractors annually. In fiscal year 2006-07, the CSLB obtained nearly $45 million in ordered restitution for consumers.
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