Court Upholds Felony Guilty Plea for Contracting Without a License in Disaster Area
Case affirmed against unlicensed operator caught in CSLB Rancho Bernardo Sting
SACRAMENTO — Efforts by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) to keep unlicensed individuals from contracting at San Diego County properties devastated by wildfire three years ago were upheld in a decision by California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals on August 24, 2010. The appellate court agreed with a lower court that did not allow Richard Nelson, 53, of San Diego, to renege on his guilty plea to felony contracting without a license in a disaster zone.
Investigators from CSLB’s Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) targeted Nelson and other unlicensed operators during a sting operation at a Rancho Bernardo home on December 4, 2007. The home was severely damaged by wildfire six weeks earlier, and located within the state-declared disaster area. It is a violation of California Business and Professions Code to undertake any home improvement project valued at a combined labor and materials cost of $500 or more without a contractor license. In a state- or federal-declared disaster zone, violations can be charged as felonies, punishable by up to three years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.
"CSLB is gratified the appellate court affirmed this conviction," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "We’re committed to protecting California consumers, particularly those who’ve been devastated by natural disasters, then become victims a second time when a phony contractor tries to take advantage of them at a vulnerable time."
CSLB moves quickly after disaster strikes. Staff meets with disaster victims, giving them educational materials and warning them about unlicensed or unscrupulous contractors who may try to take advantage of them. CSLB’s post-disaster enforcement efforts also include job site sweeps to make sure businesses are following construction, labor, health, safety and employment laws.
CSLB also works closely with the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office to prosecute phony contractors. "Unfortunately, some individuals use a time of crisis to take advantage of others," said District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. "This latest decision by the appellate court confirms that unlicensed and unscrupulous contractors will be held accountable in the criminal justice system."
CSLB publications After a Disaster Don’t Get Scammed and Después de un desastre, no permita que lo estafen are filled with tips for those seeking to rebuild after their home is lost or damaged including:
- Hire only licensed contractors.
- Ask to see the contractor’s pocket license card and photo identification to verify it is the correct person.
- Don’t hire door-to-door solicitors or the first person who says they can fix or rebuild your home.
- Don’t rush the repairs, no matter how badly they’re needed.
- Don’t pay more than 10% down or $1,000, whichever is less. There is an exception for about two dozen contractors who have purchased special bonds to protect consumers. These exceptions are noted on CSLB’s website.
- Don’t pay in cash, and don’t let payments get ahead of the work.
- Get at least three bids, check references, and make sure all project expectations are included in the written contract.
The Contractors State License Board operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. More information and publications about hiring contractors are available on the CSLB website or by calling 800-321-CSLB (2752). You can also sign up for CSLB e-mail alerts at www.cslb.ca.gov. 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 2009-2010, CSLB helped recover nearly $42 million in ordered restitution for consumers.
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