More than 100 Arrests in Contractors State License Board Statewide Undercover Sting Operations
Over 80 construction sites also swept for violations
SACRAMENTO — The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) has completed simultaneous undercover sting operations and sweeps in seven cities around the state: Clovis, Yuba City, Santa Ana, Rancho Mirage, Norwalk, Dana Point and Garden Grove. The operations were conducted by CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) over a two-day period (September 10-11, 2008), partnering with local law enforcement agencies. A total of 108 people were arrested and cited with a Notice to Appear (NTA) for unlicensed contracting activity. Five of the suspects were taken to jail with outstanding arrest warrants, including one sex offender.
SWIFT members posed as homeowners and invited suspected unlicensed operators to the various sting locations to bid on construction jobs that ranged from landscaping, fences and masonry to concrete, tile and painting. Many of the targeted suspects were repeat offenders. The purpose of these operations is to alert consumers to the dangers of hiring phony contractors, to educate unlicensed workers about California construction and employment laws, and to encourage those who qualify to get their contractors' license.
People who showed up and bid more than $500 on contracting jobs were arrested and given "Notices to Appear" (NTA) before a Superior Court judge where they will answer to misdemeanor charges of contracting without a license and, in many cases, for illegal advertising. The charges carry a maximum of six months in jail or a $1,000 fine for the first offense. A second violation carries a mandatory 90-day jail sentence.
By law, all contractors who perform work in California that totals $500 or more (labor and materials) must be licensed by the CSLB. To qualify for a license, a contractor must pass a criminal background check, verify four years of journey-level experience in the trade, pass both a trade and license law examination, and post a license bond. "Homeowners take some major risks when they hire someone who is not licensed to do work in their home," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "It is not unusual for these illegal operators to be breaking other laws. They are not the kind of people you want in your home or near your family."
Because unlicensed operators don't carry workers' compensation insurance, they often submit lower bids on jobs. But, if a worker is injured on the job, the homeowner could be liable. Plus, if a contract dispute with an unlicensed contractor, the homeowner has very few options to regain any project or financial losses.
Sweeps of 81 construction sites in Garden Grove, Norwalk, and Dana Point was conducted on September 10 by CSLB, in conjunction with local government partners and the Economic and Employment Enforcement Coalition (EEEC). EEEC is Governor Schwarzenegger's task force that targets industries known to be active in the underground economy. A portion of the Santa Ana sting was also coordinated with EEEC and targeted active violators.
The following are highlights from the sting enforcement operations:
|Clovis, Fresno County (Sting)||Contractors State License Board
Fresno County District Attorney's Office
Clovis Police Department
|32 Notices to Appear
13 Workers' compensation violations
|Yuba City, Sutter County (Sting)||Contractors State License Board
Sutter County District Attorney's Office
Department of Motor Vehicles
|18 Notices to Appear, 2 warrant arrests, 8 administrative citations, 3 warnings, 8 towed vehicles|
|Santa Ana, Orange County (Sting)||Contractors State License Board
Orange County Sheriff's Department
Orange County District Attorney's Office
Economic and Employment Enforcement Coalition (EEEC)
|39 Notices to Appear, 6 administrative follow-ups,
1 arrest on outstanding warrants
|Rancho Mirage, Riverside County (Sting)||Contractors State License Board
Riverside County District Attorney's Office
|21 Notices to Appear
3 administrative citations
|Norwalk, Los Angeles County (Sweep)||Contractors State License Board
Norwalk Building Department
|24 sites visited
19 License entities checked (no violation)
1 Licensee citations issued (no work comp.)
4 Non-licensee citations issued
$6,000.00 Civil Penalties Accessed
|Garden Grove, Orange County (Sweep)||Contractors State License Board
Economic and Employment Enforcement Coalition (EEEC)
|16 sites visited (all licenses in compliance)|
|Dana Point, Orange County (Sweep)||Contractors State License Board||41 sites visited
1 Licensee citations (working out of class)
1 Non-licensee cite issued
2 Non-licensee cites pending
2 Violation warning letters issued
6 (print and/or advertising violation)
$1,500.00 Civil Penalties Accessed
Sting details of note from various locations:
- Clovis - One licensed contractor was cited for failing to use his license number in advertising, as is legally required. He told investigators that he attracted more business posing as an unlicensed contractor because consumers assume his prices are lower.
- Yuba City - One suspect received a speeding ticket on her way to bid on a job at the sting house, where she received her second ticket of the day for contracting without a license.
- Santa Ana - Two years ago a suspected unlicensed operator told CSLB investigators that they have never been able to make a violation stick against him, and never will. He was cited, arrested, and transported by a police car for booking at the Orange County Jail on outstanding warrants.
The 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 service 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 obtained nearly $35.2 million in ordered restitution for consumers.
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