Repeat Offenders Targeted by Contractors State License Board in Bakersfield Undercover Sting Operation
Many consumers don’t realize risk of hiring unlicensed contractors for home improvement jobs
SACRAMENTO — An unlicensed cement contractor who was the subject of several consumer complaints to the Contractors State License Board’s (CSLB) Central Valley Investigative Center was one of six targeted in a Bakersfield sting operation on July 2, 2010. Some of the other targets were tree trimmers who had been caught in earlier enforcement operations. CSLB’s Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) was assisted in the operation by the Kern County District Attorney’s (DA) office and the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unit.
While meeting to plan for the operation on July 1, investigators received a tip that their sought- after cement installer, Jose Chavez Villegas, 27, of Bakersfield, was working at a private home with four employees. The SWIFT investigator issued Villegas a Notice to Appear (NTA) in court to face charges of contracting without a license, illegal advertising and soliciting an excessive down payment. The DA investigator issued an NTA for failure to carry workers’ compensation insurance. ICE booked Villegas and three of his employees for deportation, which took place later that evening.
At the July 2 sting, SWIFT investigators posed as homeowners soliciting bids from suspected unlicensed tree trimmers. Four suspects who bid more than $500 for the project received an NTA for contracting without a license. Three others face an additional charge of illegal advertising, and one faces an additional charge for soliciting an excessive down payment. ICE booked two for deportation.
Suspect Jose Fuentes, 39, of Bakersfield, fled the sting location before offering a bid but was caught by ICE and booked for deportation. Fuentes had received an NTA in a 2003 CSLB sting. He was convicted for contracting without a license, illegal advertising, and using a contractor license not issued to him. He could face charges for a second offense, pending the outcome of the DA’s investigation.
It is a violation of California Business and Professions (B&P) Code to undertake any home improvement job valued at more than $500 for labor and materials without a state contractor license. Contractors must put their license number in all advertisements. Unlicensed contractors may advertise to do home improvement work valued at less than $500, but must state in their ads that they are not licensed contractors.
B&P Code also prohibits soliciting a down payment greater than $1,000 or 10 percent of the contract price, whichever is less. There is an exception to the down payment law for about two dozen contractors who purchase special bonds for consumer protection which are noted on the CSLB website. California Labor Code requires contractors to carry workers’ compensation insurance for all of their employees. The Kern County DA has a special grant to target workers’ comp violators and often partners with CSLB investigators as unlicensed contractors do not carry this insurance.
"Unlicensed operators are part of a huge underground economy and may not be such a bargain for the homeowners who use them," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "They do not have workers’ compensation for their employees, which could leave homeowners in a lurch if a worker is injured on their property. Not only is it a huge risk for consumers, but these phony contractors make it almost impossible for legitimate, law-abiding licensed contractors to compete."
CSLB urges consumers to follow these 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 or via CSLB’s automated phone system and ask to see a photo ID 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 website.
- 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.
The following suspects are scheduled for arraignment at 8:30 a.m. on August 23, 2010, in Division G of the Kern County Superior Court, 1215 Truxton Avenue in Bakersfield:
City of Residence
|Jose Chavez Villegas
Jose Chavez Construction Inc.
|27||Concrete||Contracting without a license, illegal advertising, soliciting excessive down payment
ICE – booked for deportation
|39||Tree Trimming||DA investigation pending
ICE – booked for deportation
|Tomas Sanchez Hernandez
Thoma’s Tree Service
|39||Tree Trimming||Contacting without a license, soliciting excessive down payment|
|Deyci Jimena Rodriguez
Zamora Tree Service
|29||Tree Trimming||Contracting without a license, illegal advertising
ICE – booked for deportation
El Pronto Tree Service
|20||Tree Trimming||Contracting without a license, illegal advertising|
|Francisco Carrillo Aguilar
The Seasons Tree Service
|22||Tree Trimming||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 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.CheckTheLicenseFirst.com or www.cslb.ca.gov. 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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