Two Dozen Caught Diving Into Illegal Contracting
Unlicensed pool contractors among those busted in two-day undercover sting
SACRAMENTO — The Contractors State License Board's (CSLB) Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) jumped in to aid a swimming pool contractor who was tired of losing jobs to unlicensed bidders. That contractor provided SWIFT investigators with leads for an undercover sting operation that took place this week (May 27 and May 28, 2009) in Bakersfield. The Kern County District Attorney's Office and California Department of Insurance assisted in the two day operation.
In over their heads were 24 illegal operators, posing as swimming pool, landscaping, and painting contractors. They were either arrested, given Notices to Appear (NTA), or administrative citations for fraudulent use of a contractor's license, contracting without a license, and illegal advertising.
One of the phony contractors, who claimed he volunteered his time for an "Extreme Makeover - Home Edition" project to make a Fresno home wheelchair-accessible for a woman and her children, was among those busted. A video clip taken at the makeover home is prominently displayed on 40- year-old Joseph Rogovoy's "One Handyman" business Web site.
During the sting operation Rogovoy told SWIFT investigators that he and his wife could oversee installation of several jobs: a swimming pool, landscaping, and interior painting. Rogovoy and his wife, Summer Hufford, of Bakersfield, were given NTAs to appear in Kern County Superior Court on charges of contracting without a license and illegal advertising. It is illegal to contract for any job that costs more than $500 in labor and materials without a CSLB license.
Another sting target, 49-year-old Travis Kyle Marchant, of Bakersfield, was arrested for felony use of his brother's contractor license. Marchant, who operates a non-CSLB licensed business called "Town and Country Landscaping," was also cited for not having workers' compensation insurance. Marchant was taken to jail, then released on $15,000 bail. He is set for arraignment in Kern County Superior Court on June 11, 2009. Kristopher Marchant, 43, of Bakersfield, will receive an administrative citation for allowing his brother to fraudulently use his license and could face criminal conspiracy charges.
Suspects who received Notices to Appear for misdemeanor charges are scheduled to appear in Kern County Superior Court on July 10, 2009.
"In these difficult economic times, it's more important than ever for consumers to be careful when hiring someone to work in or around their home," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "Many consumers don't realize that if something goes wrong or mistakes are made, they can be 100% liable."
To become licensed, a contractor must have at least four years of journey-level experience and pass two licensing exams. California contractors must be bonded and carry workers' compensation insurance for their employees. 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. "It only takes a few minutes to check a contractor's license number on the CSLB Web site or through our automated tollfree line to make sure he or she is licensed in the trade that they claim," said Sands. "We also have a lot of educational materials to help consumers through the contracting process."
The CSLB urges consumers to follow these tips when dealing with a building 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).
- 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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