Phony Contractors Face Felony Charges after Contractors State License Board Undercover Sting Operation
Sting operation targeted violators in Santa Barbara County declared disaster areaSACRAMENTO — The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) continues its high profile enforcement efforts in the southern California wildfire zones. This week, CSLB teamed up with the Santa Barbara Police Department and Santa Barbara County District Attorney's office to conduct a sting operation in the Tea Fire zone where more than 200 homes burned last fall. Several illegal operators were arrested in the declared disaster zone in Montecito on Wednesday February 4, 2009, after advertising for construction work.
Investigators from CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) posed as fire victims at the site of a burned home that had been razed to the foundation. Investigators requested bids on fencing and demolition work. Seven suspects were arrested on felony charges and taken to the Santa Barbara Police Station. The suspects were singled out because of business cards and flyers left in the fire zone and newspaper ads.
CSLB staff has been an active and visible presence in the fire disaster areas, meeting with fire victims and posting hundreds of warning signs. "We are continuing to work with local partners like the Santa Barbara Police and County District Attorney in the declared disaster areas," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "This is an ongoing mission for us. We want to make sure homeowners aren't victimized a second time."
CSLB investigators conduct sting operations on a weekly basis somewhere in the state. The operations are spurred on by conEnforcement stings heighten awareness about the dangers of using illegal operators. Contractors working on any job - from debris removal to roof repair to rebuilding - totaling $500 or more for labor and materials must be licensed by CSLB. It is illegal and punishable as a felony to perform contracting work in a state or federally-declared disaster area without a valid California contractor's license. Punishment may include a fine of up to $10,000 and/or up to 16 months in state prison.
To become licensed, a contractor must have at least four years of journey-level experience and pass two licensing exams. California contractors must carry a license bond, and provide workers' compensation insurance for their employees. A homeowner could be financially at risk if workers who aren't covered have an accident while on their property.
Homeowners should closely review any paperwork or contracts they are handed. A standard home repair contract is required to include a three-day "Right-To-Cancel" notification. However, there is a provision called a Service and Repair Contract that waives the consumer's right to cancel the moment paperwork is signed and the job gets underway. Consumers should take time to make the right choice.
Consumers can verify a contractor's license status through the CSLB's Web site at www.cslb.ca.gov or through its toll-free automated telephone system at 1-800-321-CSLB (2752). Find out if the contractor's license is active and in the right classification for the work to be done. Consumers can also see if there are any legal complaints against the contractor, if the business name and address are correct, and if there is workers' compensation insurance coverage for employees. Consumers can download tips and publications on topics like disaster scams, hiring a contractor, and home improvement contracts from the CSLB Web site. The Web site also has a location for people to report unlicensed activity.
The CSLB urges consumers to follow these tips when dealing with a building contractor:
- Hire only licensed contractors and ask to see the license.
- Don't hire the first contractor who comes along.
- Don't rush into repairs, no matter how badly they're needed.
- Verify the contractor's license at www.cslb.ca.gov or 1-800-321-CSLB (2752).
- Don't pay more than 10 percent or $1,000, whichever is less, as a down payment.
- Don't pay in cash, and don't let the payments get ahead of the work.
- Get three bids, check references, and get a written contract.
In 2009, CSLB, which operates under the umbrella of the Department of Consumer Affairs, marks its 80th anniversary of protecting consumers by regulating California's construction industry. Today CSLB licenses more than 316,000 contractors. In any given year, complaints are filed against only 3% of licensed contractors. In fiscal year 2007-08, the CSLB helped consumers recover $35.2 million in ordered restitution.
|Name||Business||City of Residence||Violations|
|Heriberto Torres.||Torres Hauling||Ventura||7028.16, 7027.1(a)|
|Saul Aguilar||Aguilar Tree &
|Andrew Poulin||Santa Barbara
Hills Painting & Carpentry
|Santa Barbara||7028.16, 7027.1(a),
|Joseph Vimarco||Santa Barbara
Hills Painting & Carpentry
|Santa Barbara||7028.16, 7027.1(a)|
|Elfega Ochoa||Express Hauling||Goleta||7028.16, 7027.1(a)|
|Oscar Rosales||Eagle Fence||Santa Barbara||7028.16 7027.1(a),
|Kevin Bermudes||First Rate Deck||Santa Barbara||7028.1, 7027.1(a),
Business & Professions Code (B&P)
7028.16 (Felony) Contracting in a Declared Disaster Zone without a license
7027.1 Illegal advertising
7159.5 Contracting without a license and illegal contract provisions like excessive down payment.
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