Speedy Suspect Can Run But Not Hide from SWIFT
CSLB’s Statewide Investigative Fraud Team stings Kern County’s underground economy
SACRAMENTO — A Contractors State License Board (CSLB) sting operation in Bakersfield on February 8, 2012, resulted in 10 notices to appear in court (NTAs) for contracting without a license and failure to carry workers’ compensation insurance, as required by state law for contractors who use employee labor. These suspects also received stop orders that halt any use of employee labor until a workers’ compensation policy is obtained and proof of coverage submitted to CSLB. One suspect ran from the sting house before he could be cited, but SWIFT will likely issue the NTA once he is positively identified.
CSLB’s Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) conducted the operation with the assistance of the Kern County District Attorney’s Office, California Highway Patrol, and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations. SWIFT and DA investigators went undercover as homeowners seeking bids for plumbing, concrete, painting, and tree services. Those who bid more than $500 for labor and materials received NTAs for contracting without a license. State law requires a contractor license in the appropriate trade classification for anyone who contracts for home improvement and construction projects that are valued at labor and material costs of more than $500. Carlos Joe Sobalvarro, 55, of Bakersfield, faces 90 days in jail for a second conviction of contracting without a license. He was sentenced to three years probation for the same in 2009.
Some of the ten will face additional charges for soliciting excessive down payments and illegal advertising. State law prohibits contractors from asking for or accepting a down payment larger than 10 percent of the contract price or $1,000, whichever is less. There is an exception for about two dozen licensees who purchase special bonds for consumer protection. When advertising, contractors are legally required to place their license number in the ad. Those who do not have a license and perform jobs valued at less than $500 must state that they are not licensed in all of their ads.
Two of the suspects caught in the sting claimed they were working for licensees; one of those licenses was suspended, and the other had expired. CSLB will investigate and determine what actions will be taken on the license, and whether the cases should be forwarded to the DA for criminal filing.
"CSLB and the Kern County District Attorney take the state’s consumer and worker protection laws very seriously," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "California homeowners considering hiring a contractor should review Ten Tips to Make Sure Your Contractor Measures Up to learn their rights as consumers. Before signing a contract, always consult CSLB’s online instant license check to ensure the contractor’s license is in good standing and that they have workers’ compensation insurance if they have employees."
The ten suspects who received notices to appear are scheduled to be arraigned on March 27, 2012, at 8:30 a.m. in the Kern County Superior Court, 1215 Truxton Avenue in Bakersfield:
|SUSPECT'S NAME AND CITY||AGE||WORK
|Jose Ascencion Toledo Rodriguez
|53||Tree Services||Contracting without a license, illegal advertising, no workers’ comp, stop order|
|Anthony Martin Mercado
|23||Painting||Contracting without a license, illegal advertising, no worker’s comp, stop order|
|47||Tree Services||Contracting without a license, illegal advertising, soliciting excessive down payment, no workers’ comp, stop order|
|45||Concrete||Contracting without a license, illegal advertising, soliciting excessive down payment, no workers’ comp, stop order|
|Carlos Joe Sobalvarro
|55||Tree Services||Contracting without a license, illegal advertising, no workers’ comp, stop order|
|Mark Steven Keefer
|49||Roofing||Contracting without a license, illegal advertising, soliciting excessive down payment, no workers’ comp, stop order|
|32||Painting||Contracting without a license, illegal advertising, soliciting excessive down payment, no workers’ comp, stop order, deported|
|Martin Antonio Centeno
|Rodolfo Hernandez Hernandez
|39||Tree Services||Contracting without a license, illegal advertising, no workers’ comp, stop order|
CSLB urges consumers to follow these tips before hiring anyone to work on their home:
- Hire only licensed contractors and ask to see their license and a photo ID to verify their identity.
- Always check the license number on CSLB’s website at www.cslb.ca.gov or www.CheckTheLicenseFirst.com to make sure the license is in good standing.
- 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 email alerts. CSLB licenses and regulates California's 300,000 contractors, and is regarded as one of the leading consumer protection agencies in the United States. In fiscal year 2010-11, CSLB helped recover nearly $45 million in ordered restitution for consumers.
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