Unlicensed Contractor Goes to Jail After Failing to Pay Nearly $50,000 in Restitution
Blind, elderly man among those cheated by Napa con artist
SACRAMENTO — A Contractors State License Board (CSLB) special investigation target, Ronald "Russell" Clawson, 27, of Napa, is now in the Napa County Jail, beginning to serve a six-month sentence. Clawson was ordered into custody at a sentencing hearing in Napa County Superior Court on May 27, 2010. Clawson has failed to pay any of the court-ordered $49,304 in restitution he owed for using the license number of a legitimate CSLB licensee-who is also named Clawson-and ripping off consumers. Three northern Californians paid the unlicensed Clawson for what resulted in incomplete, substandard work.
One Napa woman paid Clawson $8,300 to remodel her kitchen. CSLB Investigators found that 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 Clawson should pay $33,908 to reimburse the victim for her payment to Clawson and to clean up the mess he made of her home.
CSLB initiated a special investigation into Clawson in March 2009 after being alerted by Napa County officials about an elderly, blind 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 that the unlicensed Clawson was using that legitimate contractor's license number on business cards, claiming he was the licensee's son. Clawson was ordered to pay $10,096 in restitution to the 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.
On November 20, 2009, Clawson pleaded no contest 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 was to make full restitution by the date of his sentencing hearing, and then serve a six-month jail sentence. Because he has not paid any restitution, Clawson was sent directly to jail to begin the six-month sentence and was placed on felony probation for three years. Violation of that probation, including failure to make restitution, could send him to state prison for up to six years.
"Sometimes jail is the only way to stop unlicensed people who defraud consumers," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "It also highlights the importance of checking a contractor's license and verifying identification before you agree to a home improvement contract."
CSLB urges you to follow these helpful tips:
- Hire only licensed contractors and ask to see their license and a photo ID. Always check the license number online at www.cslb.ca.gov or www.CheckTheLicense.com 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 website.
- 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.
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. 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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