Unlicensed Operators Caught in Contractors State License Board Clearlake Sting Operation
Authorities warn of dangers to unsuspecting consumers who hire phony contractors
SACRAMENTO — Phony contractors looking for easy money at a residential community center in Clearlake Oaks last week got caught in a Contractors State License Board (CSLB) sting operation. The undercover operation was held in cooperation with the Lake County District Attorney's Office on Wednesday, December 10, 2008.
Members of CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) posed as property owners and took bids on projects that included fencing, landscaping, roofing, painting and exterior trim. When the suspects offered bids over $500, they were arrested and given a Notice to Appear (NTA) for contracting without a license. California law requires a state contractor's license for home improvement jobs that are valued at $500 or more in material and labor.
CSLB investigators issued 14 NTAs, five administrative citations, and two warning letters. James Arthur Lee Jr., of Lucerne received both an NTA and citation after he bid $9,000 for the labor portion of a fencing project. Lee is not a stranger to CSLB or breaking the law. He had received two prior CSLB citations for unlicensed activity.
CSLB investigators conduct sting operations on a weekly basis somewhere in the state. The operations are spurred on by concerns about predators who take advantage of those who are too trusting, especially senior citizens. "Consumers don't always realize the serious risks they take when they hire unlicensed people to work on their property," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "Just because these individuals are locals, it doesn't mean they have neighborly intentions. Many of the suspects caught up in CSLB stings have a variety of other, more serious legal problems."
Unlicensed operators are also part of a multi-billion dollar underground economy that takes jobs away from legitimate contractors, and tax dollars from schools, roads and law enforcement. Illegal operators never carry workers' compensation or liability insurance. Homeowners have little recourse if something goes wrong with an unlicensed operator.
Licensed contractors are often underbid by these underground operators who don't have the expense of insurance, payroll or safety requirements. To qualify for a license, a contractor must verify four years of journey-level experience in the trade, pass both a trade and license law examination, and post a license bond.
The 14 suspects who received NTAs will appear in Lake County Superior Court on February 9, 2009, to answer the misdemeanor charges of contracting without a license. The charges carry a potential sentence of up to six months in jail and/or a $500 fine. Penalties increase if the suspects are caught a second time.
CSLB urges consumers to follow these tips when hiring a contractor:
- Be especially hesitant when approached by someone offering home improvement services door-to-door.
- Verify the contractor's license by checking online at www.cslb.ca.gov, or via CSLB's automated phone system at 1-800-321-CSLB (2752).
- Don't pay more than 10% down or $1,000, whichever is less.
- Don't pay in 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.
The Contractors State License Board operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. The CSLB licenses and regulates California's 316,000 contractors, and investigates more than 20,000 complaints against contractors annually. In fiscal year 2007-08, the CSLB helped consumers get more than $35.2 million in ordered restitution.
|Name||Age||City of Residence||Business & Professions
|James Arthur Lee Jr.||36||Lucerne (2 prior citations)||7028, 7028.7|
|Ronald Carl Peterson||38||Clearlake||7028.7, 7027.1|
|Bruce Suter||57||Clearlake||7028, 7027.1|
|Gary Benson||57||Hidden Valley||7028|
|Ronald Trader||48||Cobb||7028, 7027.1|
|Luis Rodriguez||42||Kelseyville||7028,7027.1, 3700.5|
|Jerry Heidebrect||51||Lower Lake||7027.1|
|Jack Paulin||52||Lakeport||7028, 7027, 7028.7|
|Blair Kirkpatrick||41||Lakeport||7028, 7027.1|
|Benjamin Perry||48||Lakeport||7028. 7027.1, 7028.17|
|Rodney Miller||52||Lower Lake||7028|
|Herson Prmando Marroquin||39||Nice||7028|
|Mei Hing Dye||46||Lakeport||7028.7, 7027.1|
|Daniel Morgan Dye||61||Lakeport||7028.7, 7027.1|
|Jack Conrad||59||Kelseyville||7028, 7027.1|
Business & Professions Code: 7028 Contracting without a license, 7027.1 Illegal advertising
Labor Code: 3700 Workers' Compensation
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