Unlicensed Contractor Must Pay for Throwing Out Everything Including the Kitchen Sink
Napa suspect must make nearly $34,000 restitution by mid-April
SACRAMENTO —A Contractors State License Board (CSLB) special investigation target, Ronald "Russell" Clawson, 27, of Napa, has been ordered by the Napa County Superior Court to pay $33,908 in restitution for one victim's abandoned kitchen remodeling project. Clawson used the license number of a legitimate CSLB licensee with the same last name to defraud three northern California consumers.
The ruling was issued on February 19, 2010, as part of Clawson's November 20, 2009, no contest plea to four counts of elder abuse, identity theft, grand theft, and fraudulent use of a contractor license number. As part of the plea agreement, Clawson must serve six months in county jail, spend three years on felony probation, and pay full restitution to all his victims by his April 19, 2010 sentencing hearing.
The restitution hearing was ordered to determine how much Russell Clawson would be required to reimburse a Napa County woman who paid him $8,300 to remodel her kitchen. Investigators found Clawson abandoned the project, leaving the woman's stove in her living room, and her kitchen sink and a pile of construction debris in her backyard. Testimony from investigators and a CSLB industry expert helped the judge determine the amount necessary to correct the damage caused by Clawson.
"CSLB is gratified that the victims in this case will be made whole," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "This special investigation is an example of CSLB's commitment to both consumer and contractor protection."
CSLB initiated the special investigation of Clawson in March 2009, when Napa County officials alerted the Board about an elderly, blind Napa resident who hired Clawson to build three small sheds at a Yountville rental property. The victim paid more than $8,000, but Clawson did not complete the work and failed to pull the necessary permits from the local building department. Meanwhile, the legitimate licensee complained to CSLB that a consumer he had never met in Fairfield (Solano County) had filed a claim against his contractor license bond. CSLB's Special Investigation Unit determined Clawson was using that contractor's license number on business cards, claiming he was the licensee's son. The licensee told CSLB his business did not involve any relatives.
Clawson has already been ordered to pay $10,096 in restitution to the elderly, Napa man and $5,300 to the Fairfield man who paid Clawson that amount to build and install an entertainment center that was never delivered. Clawson must pay all three victims by April 19, 2010. If he doesn't, the court will place him on a restitution payment schedule. Failure to make those payments or any other violation of his three-year probation could send him to state prison for up to six years. If full restitution is made by April 19, the charges will be reduced to misdemeanors, and any violation of his three-year probation will result in county jail rather than state prison time.
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.
CSLB licenses about 310,000 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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