Contractors State License Board Sting Snares Unlicensed Contractor Twice in One Month
Suspect could face enhanced penalties for second violation
SACRAMENTO — Hilario Santos Ortiz, 50, of Fresno is among 12 suspects caught in an undercover sting operation April 28 and 29, 2010, in central Fresno. Santos Ortiz, who does business as Larry's Flooring and Home Repair, was also caught at a sting on March 24, 2010, during the Contractors State License Board's (CSLB) 11-city, California Blitz. If he is convicted of the charges in both Madera County and Fresno, he could face up to $5,000 in fines, and a mandatory jail sentence of no less than 90 days. That maximum fine for a second offense increased by $500 when a new law took effect on January 1, 2010.
Members of CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) posed as homeowners and invited suspected unlicensed operators to bid on electrical, flooring, tile, fencing, landscaping, and concrete projects. The Fresno County District Attorney's Office and California Department of Insurance investigators assisted CSLB in its two-day operation.
Suspects who bid more than $500 for these jobs received Notices to Appear (NTA) in court for unlicensed contracting and, in some instances, illegal advertising and solicitation of an excessive down payment. California Business and Professions (B&P) Code requires a state contractor license for home improvement jobs valued at $500 or more for labor and materials. B&P Code also requires contractors to include their license number in all advertisements, or to state that they do not have a license. Contractors cannot ask for a down payment of more than $1,000 or ten percent of the contract price, whichever is less. There is an exception for about two dozen contractors who have purchased special consumer protection bonds that are noted at www.cslb.ca.gov.
Unlicensed operators are large part of the underground economy, and have not undergone criminal background checks. Anybody who has applied for or changed a contractor license since 2005 has been required to submit fingerprints that are reviewed by the Department of Justice.
During the sting, two suspects were taken to jail on outstanding warrants. Kenneth Boyd Smith, 47, of Fresno, failed to appear in court for driving under the influence and had $10,500 in warrants for traffic and child support violations. Samuel Mendoza, 37, of Fresno, had a warrant for stealing a car. Another suspected unlicensed contractor is on probation for a federal drug charge.
"Unlicensed contractors may not be the type of people you want in your home or around your family," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "As this sting shows, failure to obtain a license may not be these people's only violations of the law."
Homeowners may also be taking a financial risk when hiring unlicensed contractors. They do not carry workers' compensation insurance, which means if a worker gets hurt, the homeowner could be liable for medical expenses. In addition, homeowners have little recourse when something goes wrong, as those without licenses do not have contractor license bonds for consumer protection. CSLB requires licensees to obtain a $12,500 contractor license bond.
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 suspects given NTAs are scheduled to appear in Fresno County Superior Court at 1100 Van Ness on June 22, 2010, at 8:30 a.m.
|April 28, 2010 suspects:|
|Kenneth Boyd Schmitz
|47||Electrical||Contracting without a license & illegal advertising.
Arrested on 3 warrants: DUI/failure to appear, traffic violation, child support violation
|Michael Troy Simpson
|38||Tile||Contracting without a license|
|51||Fencing||Contracting without a license & illegal advertising|
|Hilario Santos Ortiz
|50||Flooring||Contracting without a license & illegal advertising|
|Antonio Armando Soto||23||Fencing||Contracting without a license & illegal advertising|
|Richard Anthony Renteria
|41||Flooring||Contracting without a license, illegal advertising & soliciting excessive down payment|
|31||Fencing||Contracting without a license & illegal advertising|
April 28, 2010 suspects:
|Arthur Rosas, Jr.
|26||Flooring &Tile||Contracting without a license & illegal advertising|
|37||Fencing||Contracting without a license & illegal advertising|
|Miguel Gonzales Martinez
|34||Electrical||Contracting without a license|
|Ricardo Alexander Reyna
|34||Electrical & Fencing||Contracting without a license & illegal advertising|
|Rudy M. Guzman
|43||Concrete & Landscaping||Contracting without a license & illegal advertising|
The Contractors State License Board operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. More information and publications about hiring contractors is available on the CSLB website or by calling 800-321-CSLB (2752). The CSLB licenses and regulates California's more than 300,000 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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