CSLB Special Investigation Results in Jail Time for Unlicensed Contractor Who Ripped Off Licensee's Identity
Suspect must also pay restitution to victims including elderly, blind man as part of no contest plea
SACRAMENTO —Unlicensed contractor Ronald Russell Clawson, 27, of Napa, who used the license number of a legitimate CSLB licensee with the same last name to defraud three northern California consumers, pleaded no contest in Napa County Superior Court on November 20, 2009. As part of the plea to four felony counts for elder abuse, identity theft, grand theft, and fraudulent use of a contractor license number, Clawson must serve six months in county jail, spend three years on felony probation, and pay restitution to his victims.
Napa County Sheriffs deputies contacted CSLB in March 2009 regarding a 75-year-old blind, hearing impaired Napa man who hired Clawson to construct three small sheds at his rental property in Yountville (Napa County). Clawson did not complete the job, which was in excess of $8,000, and did not pull permits from the local building department, as required. In another case, a Napa woman paid Clawson $8,000 to remodel her kitchen and he abandoned the project, leaving her with a stove in her living room.
Meanwhile, Gary Cole Clawson, of Clawson Engineering in Arroyo Grande (San Luis Obispo County), complained to CSLB that a consumer in Fairfield (Solano County) had filed a claim against his bond-a consumer he had never met. The Fairfield victim had paid Russell Clawson $5,300 to build and install an entertainment center that was never delivered. CSLB's Special Investigation Unit discovered Russell Clawson was using the license number of Gary Cole Clawson on his business cards, claiming he was the licensee's son. The licensee indicated his business did not involve any relatives.
"CSLB values its relationships with local prosecutors who assist us in going after these unlicensed rip-off artists," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "Not only did this suspect steal thousands from consumers' wallets, he also had the gall to use a legitimate licensee's identity to commit his fraud.
Clawson's no contest plea requires him to pay full restitution for the incomplete sheds and for the entertainment center that was never delivered. A restitution hearing on January 6, 2010, will determine how much Clawson must pay the Napa woman for the kitchen remodel gone awry. An industry expert determined it will cost more than $45,000 to correct the incomplete, abandoned project. The January hearing will also determine whether the fraudulent use of Gary Clawson's CSLB license number resulted in economic loss, which would entitle him to restitution as well.
Clawson is scheduled to be sentenced in Napa County Superior Court on April 19, 2010. If he has not paid full restitution to all victims by that date, the court will place him on a restitution payment schedule. Failure to make payments to his victims, or any other violation of his three-year probation could land him in state prison for up to six years. If he has made full restitution to all victims by the sentencing date, the charges will be reduced to misdemeanors, and any violation of his three-year probation would result in county jail time rather than state prison.
This case illustrates the importance of thoroughly checking contractors before you hire them. CSLB urges you to follow these helpful tips:
- Hire only licensed contractors and ask to see their license and a photo ID to ensure they are who they say they are. Always check the license number on CSLB's Web site at www.cslb.ca.gov, and contact the business directly if you have any questions.
- Don't hire the first contractor who comes along.
- Don't rush into repairs, no matter how badly they're needed.
- Don't pay more than 10 percent or $1,000, whichever is less, as a down payment. There is an exception for about two dozen licensees who carry special bonds to protect consumers. These exceptions are noted on CSLB's Web site.
- Don't pay in cash, and don't let payments get ahead of the work.
- Get at least 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 about 315,000 contractors. In any given year, complaints are filed against only 3% of licensed contractors. In fiscal year 2008-09, CSLB helped consumers recover nearly $36 million in ordered restitution.
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