CSLB Pulls Out All the Stop Orders at Kern County Undercover Operation
Three-time convicted illegal operator just out of jail busted during Bakersfield undercover stingSACRAMENTO — New laws to help the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) crack down on the underground economy and enhance penalties for those who repeatedly contract without a license were deployed during an undercover sting operation in Bakersfield this week. On Tuesday, July 19, 2011, investigators from CSLB’s Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) posed as homeowners seeking bids for tree trimming, painting, and fencing projects at a home in northwest Bakersfield.
California law requires that home improvement and construction jobs valued at $500 or more for labor and materials be undertaken by a licensed contractor. Also, it is illegal for contractors to ask for or accept a down payment greater than 10 percent of the contract price or $1,000, whichever is less (unless they are one of about two dozen contractors that purchase special bonds for consumer protection). In addition, state law requires contractors to put their license number in all advertisements and requires those who do work valued at less than $500 to state they are not licensed in their ads. All contractors’ employees must be covered by a workers’ compensation policy. Recent legislation has enhanced CSLB’s and partnering agencies’ abilities to enforce these laws.
During Tuesday’s sting, SWIFT investigators issued 10 stop work orders to people who also received notices to appear in court for contracting without a license and related charges. One licensee who has a CSLB exemption from workers’ comp for claiming he has no employees will also receive a stop work order because another man caught in the sting claimed he was working for that licensee.
Senate Bill 1254 (Leno), which went into effect at the beginning of 2011, gives CSLB the authority to issue a stop work order to any person with or without a contractor license who does not have workers’ compensation coverage for employees. Failure to comply with the stop work order can result in misdemeanor charges and penalties including 60 days in jail and/or up to $10,000 in fines.
Repeat offenders were also targeted during this SWIFT operation. Assembly Bill 370 (Eng), which went into effect in 2010, increased the jail time required and fines for those caught contracting without a license the second and third time. The first person who showed up to bid a tree trimming job was Candido Martinez Villarreal, 51, of Bakersfield. Martinez Villarreal received a 120 day jail sentence in May, following his third conviction for contracting without a license. He was released early due to a federal cap placed on the number of inmates that may be housed in the Kern County jail at any given time. He could go back to jail for violating his probation and now faces new charges for acting as a salesperson for a licensed contractor who isn’t registered with CSLB as required by law. The licensee will face an administrative citation for employing an unregistered salesperson. The second unlicensed individual who also bid a tree trimming job is on probation for a 2009 conviction for contracting without a license and failure to carry workers’ compensation coverage. Abdon Vergara, 61, of Bakersfield, could also go to jail for probation violation, and faces the new charges of contracting without a license, illegal advertising, soliciting an excessive down payment, and failure to carry workers’ compensation insurance.
“CSLB and its partners will use every tool in the box to protect consumers and the legitimate, licensed contractors who comply with state laws,” said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. “It’s worth it for homeowners to take a couple of minutes to check out a contractor using our license lookup feature or calling our toll-free number to save them from the financial grief if shoddy work is done, or if an employee not covered by workers’ compensation is hurt on their property.”
Investigators from the Kern County District Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations assisted in the operation. The following suspects who CSLB referred for prosecution for contracting without a license and related offenses are scheduled to be arraigned in Kern County Superior Court in Bakersfield on September 13, 2011 at 8:30 a.m.:
|SUSPECT NAME, BUSINESS, & CITY||AGE||WORK
|52||Tree Service||Selling contracting services without registration|
M’s Tree Service
|61||Tree Service||Contracting without a license, illegal advertising, soliciting excessive down payment, failure to carry workers’ comp. Stop work order issued.|
|Richard Eric Johnson
|47||Painting||Contracting without a license, illegal advertising, soliciting excessive down payment, failure to carry workers’ comp. Stop work order issued.|
|Alberto Leonel Soares
Al The Handyman
|56||Fencing||Contracting without a license, illegal advertising, soliciting excessive down payment, failure to carry workers’ comp. Stop work order issued.|
|Jose Guadalupe Calderon Garcia
Joe’s Professional Tree Service
|24||Tree Service||Contracting without a license, illegal advertising, failure to carry workers’ comp. Stop work order issued.|
|Jose Guadalupe Vega
West Coast Home Improvement
|51||Painting||Contracting without a license, soliciting excessive down payment, failure to carry workers’ comp. Stop work order issued.|
|James Owen Glass
Jim’s Tree Service
|73||Tree Service||Contracting without a license, illegal advertising, failure to carry workers’ comp. Stop work order issued.|
|Richard Anthony Juarez
|47||D49||Contracting without a license, soliciting excessive down payment, failure to carry workers’ comp. Stop work order issued.|
|Jorge Antonio Garcia Chavez
Quality Gardening & Handyman
|25||Tree Service||Contracting without a license, illegal advertising, failure to carry workers’ comp. Stop work order issued.|
|Crispin Huitron Sosa
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 email 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 2009-10, CSLB helped recover nearly $42 million in ordered restitution for consumers.
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