CSLB Targets Unlicensed Landscapers and Tree Trimmers in Hanford Sting
CSLB and Kings County District Attorney form new partnership to cut down illegal contracting
SACRAMENTO — The Contractors State License Board's (CSLB) Statewide Investigative Fraud Team's (SWIFT) newly opened central valley office is already paying dividends. Last Thursday, July 30, 2009, CSLB partnered with the Kings County District Attorney's Office Fraud Unit and the Department of Insurance to conduct an undercover sting operation at a Hanford home. A total of 12 unlicensed contractors were arrested and issued a Notice to Appear (NTA) next month in Kings County Superior Court.
After noting a rise in illegal tree trimming and other unlicensed contracting, Kings County fraud investigators called upon CSLB to conduct an undercover sting operation. SWIFT investigators posed as homeowners, soliciting tree trimmers, landscapers, and concrete contractors from leads provided by prosecutors, and from those who illegally advertised their services online and in local publications.
California law requires contractors to display their CSLB license number in all advertisements. Those without CSLB licenses may only advertise and do home improvement projects for $500 or less (labor & materials), and they must state in their advertisements that they are not licensed.
"CSLB welcomes this new partnership with the Kings County District Attorney's Office," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "Our investigators look forward to building this relationship as part of our efforts to weed out the underground economy in the central valley."
The one dozen phony contractors were issued NTAs for contracting without a license, illegal advertising, or both. One will also face charges for failure to carry workers' compensation insurance for his employee. All are scheduled to be in Kings County Superior Court in Hanford on September 15, 2009, at 8:15 a.m.
One of those caught in the sting had already been cited by CSLB, and is currently on a three-year probation after pleading no contest to contracting without a license in June 2009. Another is a registered sex offender on parole.
"You never know who may be coming into your home when you hire somebody without a license," said Sands. "Since 2005, those applying for new contractor licenses or those who have added license classifications have been required to submit fingerprints to the Department of Justice."
To become licensed, a contractor must have at least four years of journey-level experience and pass two licensing exams. In any given year, 97% of licensed California contractors maintain a clear record without a single complaint filed against them.
"It is important for consumers take a few minutes to verify a contractor's license number on the CSLB Web site or call our automated toll-free line to make sure the contractor they want to hire is licensed in the appropriate trade and has the proper workers' compensation insurance and bonds," said Sands.
CSLB offers a range of helpful consumer publications that can be downloaded or ordered from the Web site: www.cslb.ca.gov, or by calling, toll-free: 1-800-321-CSLB (2752).
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 at www.cslb.ca.gov or 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, and get three bids and a written contract before your project begins.
- Contact 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. CSLB licenses and regulates about 315,000 contractors and is regarded as one of the leading consumer protection agencies in the United States. In fiscal year 2007-08, CSLB helped recover $35.2 million in ordered restitution for consumers.
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