Contractors State License Board Sting Weeds out Unlicensed Landscapers
CSLB partners with landscaping association to bust phony contractors.
SACRAMENTO — The Contractors State License Board's (CSLB) Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) conducted a two-day undercover sting operation and sweep Cambria with the assistance of the San Luis Obispo County Sheriffs and District Attorney's Offices. The San Luis Obispo Landscapers Association provided many of the leads to help crack down on unlicensed landscaping and other home improvement contractors in San Luis Obispo County who are cutting into their legitimate businesses during these tough economic times. The landscaping association also secured the sting house.
A total of 23 people in the sting held on June 23-24, 2009, received Notices to Appear (NTA) or administrative citations for contracting without a license. Three targets went to jail on outstanding warrants, in addition to their citations for violations of contracting law.
Jayson Amid Felicano Hernandez, 21, was booked on a warrant for driving under the influence, and cited for soliciting home improvement sales without being registered with CSLB to do so. Sergio Rodriguez Gonzalez, 46, went to jail on a warrant for driving without a license and insurance. He was also cited for contracting without a license, illegal advertising, and soliciting an illegally large down payment. Jonathan Charles Lohayza, 36, was booked on an arrest warrant for making threatening and annoying phone calls, and cited for unlicensed contracting and illegal advertising.
CSLB licensee, Steven Carroll Bullard, 43, was given a NTA to answer to misdemeanor charges of allowing sting target Ruben Serna, 52, and his brother Joseph Serna, 55, to illegally use his CSLB license (#825171). Ruben Serna may also be charged with contracting without a license and illegal advertising. Joseph may be charged with contracting without a license and soliciting an illegally large down payment.
Earlier this year, SWIFT investigators gave three of the phony contractors citations or verbal warnings when they were caught contracting without a license. This time they'll head to court to answer to criminal charges. Those who received NTAs are due in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court between August 19 and 28, 2009.
"During these tough economic times, consumers should not be tempted to go what they perceive as the cheap route and hire unlicensed contractors that may underbid their legitimately licensed competitors," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "If a non-licensed worker is injured or makes a mistake while working on someone's property, the homeowner can be 100% responsible because those who aren't licensed don't carry workers' compensation insurance or bonds that CSLB licensees are required to have."
To become licensed, a contractor must also have at least four years of journey-level experience and pass two licensing exams. In any given year, 97% of licensed contractors don't have a single complaint filed against them.
CSLB conducts an average of one sting each week somewhere in the state. "Consumers should take a few minutes to check a contractor's license number on the CSLB Web site or call our automated toll-free line to verify a contractor they want to hire is licensed in the appropriate trade and has the proper workers' compensation insurance and bonds," said Sands. "We also have publications available on our Web site or that people may order that explain the contracting process in detail."
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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