Online Warning to Unlicensed Contractors in Merced Does Not Deter Illegal Activity-or Arrests!
CSLB busts 11 for contracting without a license in Merced sting operation
SACRAMENTO —In spite of an online warning to unlicensed contractors that was posted on an electronic marketplace Web site, operators were still caught in illegal contracting activity at a Merced home. The Contractors State License Board's (CSLB) Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) issued 11 notices to appear (NTA) in court for contracting without a license; nine notices included illegal advertising methods and three included soliciting an excessive down payment.
SWIFT was assisted in its pre-New Year undercover sting operation by the Merced County District Attorney's Office and the Merced Police Department. SWIFT investigators posed as homeowners at a house near downtown Merced during the December 30, 2009 operation. They solicited bids for home improvement jobs that included concrete, painting, and tile work. Suspected unlicensed operators were sought through advertisements in local print media and online ads. The 11 suspects who received NTAs are scheduled to be in Merced County Court at 2260 N Street on March 23, 2010, at 8:15 a.m.
According to state law, people who don't have a license can legally perform home improvement work only if it is valued at less than $500, and they must state in their ads that they are not state-licensed contractors. The California Business & Professions Code also prohibits taking down payments larger than $1,000 or ten percent of the contract price, whichever is less. There is an exception to the down payment law for about two dozen contractors that purchase special bonds for consumer protection. Those exceptions are noted on CSLB's Web site: www.cslb.ca.gov.
"An online warning posted to lawbreakers should help the public realize that an advertisement alone does not mean a business is operating legally and legitimately," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "Always check the license first. It only takes a couple of minutes to check out a contractor on the CLSB Web site to find out if there has been any disciplinary action taken against the license."
To become licensed, a contractor must have at least four years of journey-level experience and pass two licensing exams. CSLB licensees also must carry workers' compensation insurance for employees other than themselves. Roofers (C-39 classification), however, must also cover themselves with workers' compensation insurance because of the risks involved with that trade. Licensees also must carry bonds that enable consumers to recoup project losses or damages.
In any given year, 97% of licensed California contractors maintain a clear record without a single complaint filed against them.
Following is a list of the arrests:
|Brian Russell McCullough||54||Merced||Concrete||Contracting without a license, advertising violations|
|Johnny Gonzales||48||Grayson||Painting||Contracting without a license, soliciting excessive down payment, advertising violations|
|David Lee Mercado||36||Livingston||Painting||Contracting without a license, advertising violations|
|Ramon Wilfredo Diaz||41||Merced||Painting||Contracting without a license, soliciting excessive down payment, advertising violations|
|Julian Arteaga-Gomez||35||Atwater||Concrete||Contracting without a license, advertising violations|
|Jose Martinez Resendis||35||Merced||Painting||Contracting without a license, advertising violations|
|Ruth Peña Sarabia||25||Merced||Painting||Contracting without a license|
|Jason David Zimmerman||42||Merced||Painting||Contracting without a license, advertising violations|
|Damien Sheldahl||31||Atwater||Painting||Contracting without a license, soliciting excessive down payment|
|Jose Salvador Martinez||35||Merced||Concrete||Contracting without a license, advertising violations|
|Randy Howard Cox||55||Merced||Tile||Contracting without a license|
Other highlights from the Merced sting include the arrest of one unlicensed contractor on an outstanding domestic violence warrant; another unlicensed contractor brought a friend who was arrested on a felony warrant for drugs and child support violations. Since 2005, all applicants for CSLB licenses or changes in classifications have had to submit fingerprints for a criminal background check.
CSLB provides many helpful consumer publications that can be downloaded or ordered from the Web site: www.CheckTheLicenseFirst.com or www.cslb.ca.gov, or by calling, toll-free: 1-800-321-CSLB (2752).
CSLB urges consumers to remember the following 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), and ask to see a photo identification to make sure you're dealing with the correct person.
- Don't pay more than 10% down or $1,000, whichever is less. There is an exception to this for about two dozen contractors who have special bonds for consumer protection that are noted on the CSLB Web site.
- Don't pay in cash, and don't let the payments get ahead of the work.
- Check references, and get at least 3 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 2008-09, CSLB helped recover nearly $36 million in ordered restitution for consumers.
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