Contractors Board Puts Sting on Unlicensed Contractors in Statewide Undercover Operation
Ten law enforcement agencies combine to catch dozens in California Blitz, including repeat offenders
SACRAMENTO – Seventy-six people, including 29 in Los Angeles and the Inland Empire, may face criminal charges after being caught in 12 undercover sting operations conducted in seven cities this past week by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB).
Investigators from CSLB’s Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) partnered with several local law enforcement agencies on October 13-15, 2015 to conduct the operations at homes in Moreno Valley (Riverside County), Los Angeles (Los Angeles County), San Diego (San Diego County), Fresno (Fresno County), Rio Vista (Solano County), Ukiah (Mendocino County), and Rohnert Park (Sonoma County).
Among those arrested during the operation were one dozen suspects who were either caught in previous stings, or have had consumer complaints filed with CSLB against them. Two suspects were taken directly to jail. One, caught in the Moreno Valley sting, had an arrest warrant for perjury and failure to appear in an unrelated case; a suspect at the San Diego sting had an arrest warrant and was also caught while in possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia. That suspect gave an undercover investigator a $10,000 bid to repair a deck.
A suspect caught in the Los Angeles sting, was tipped to CSLB by a consumer after that unlicensed contractor allegedly abandoned a $330,000 job. That suspect bid $74,500 to replace a long concrete driveway.
In California, all home improvement jobs valued at $500 or more in labor and materials must be done by a company with a state-issued contractor’s license. Jobs cannot be cut into pieces or charged by the hour in an effort to bypass the law.
In the undercover operation, SWIFT investigators posed as homeowners and called suspected unlicensed operators for home improvement bids that included a bathroom demo and remodel, painting, landscaping, flooring, roofing, fencing, deck repair, tree removal, masonry, tile, and concrete work.
Suspects were targeted because of tips or previous complaints, advertisements posted in online bulletin boards including Craigslist, Angie’s List, and the Yellow Pages; as well as from ads in local newspapers; community pamphlets that included, Smart Saver; store bulletin boards, business cards, and ads on sides of vehicles. The suspects caught during this operation provided bids totaling more than $360,000.
“We can’t stress enough the importance of making sure anyone you hire to work near your home or family has a state license,” said CSLB Registrar Cindi Christenson. “It only takes a few moments to go to the CSLB website and find a lot of information about them.”
Suspects caught received a Notice to Appear (NTA) in Superior Court to face misdemeanor charges. The investigative cases will be turned over to local prosecutors who will determine what charges will be filed.
Seventy-four caught may face misdemeanor charges for contracting without a license (Business and Professions Code (BPC) section 7028). The penalty for a first conviction is up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $5,000.
Two suspects were given a NTA for being an unregistered salesperson (BPC §7153).
Fifty-six suspects also may be charged with illegal advertising (BPC §7027.1). California law requires contractors to place their CSLB license number in all print, broadcast, and online advertisements. Those without a license can advertise to perform jobs valued at less than $500, but the ad must state that they are not a licensed contractor. The penalty is a fine of $700 to $1,000.
Two others may be charged with requesting an excessive down payment (BPC §7159.5). In California, a home improvement project down payment cannot exceed 10 percent of the contract total or $1,000, whichever is less. This misdemeanor charge carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and/or up to a $5,000 fine.
“This warning is especially important because many consumers are starting to hire contractors to make preparations for expected heavy rains this winter, from an el niño weather pattern,” added Christenson.
Blitz totals may increase as some suspects are expected to provide their bids to undercover investigators at a later date.
Fresno (Fresno County)
- Bids ranged from $1,100 to $5,680
- After receiving NTA, suspect may have tipped off two other men arriving at sting house as he was leaving
- Bids ranged from $750 to $74,500
- Two suspects caught in previous CSLB sting operations (2009 & 2014)
- One lead provided by consumer allegedly victimized by unlicensed contractor who abandoned $330,000 job
- Bids ranged from $750 to $6,200
- One suspect taken to jail with $75,000 arrest warrant for perjury and failure to appear
- One suspect caught in previous CSLB sting operation (2012)
- One suspect previously cited by CSLB – Partially paid fine
- Bids ranged from $1,650 to $23,000
- Bids ranged from $1,500 to $9,400
- One suspect caught had a contractor’s license that expired in 2012
- Bids ranged from $1,000 to $10,000
- One suspect taken to jail for drug possession, driving with a suspended license, and a $5,000 arrest warrant
- One suspect said he “partnered” with licensed contractor. That licensee may receive citation for aiding and abetting unlicensed activity
- Bids ranged from $2,000 to $4,500
- One suspect caught in previous CSLB sting operation (1997)
Location Notices to Appear Partner Agencies Fresno
9 -Fresno County District Attorney’s Office
-California Highway Patrol
Los Angeles County
14 -Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office
-Dept. of Consumer Affairs Division of Investigation
15 -Riverside County District Attorney’s Office Rio Vista
10 -Solano County District Attorney’s Office Rohnert Park
7 -Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office San Diego
San Diego County
16 -San Diego County District Attorney’s Office
-California Highway Patrol
5 -Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office
CSLB encourages consumers to always “Check The License First” by visiting www.cslb.ca.gov or calling its toll-free automated line: 800.321.CSLB (2752). Also, visit CSLB’s website for tips about how to hire a contractor and to sign up for CSLB Email Alerts.
The Contractors State License Board operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. CSLB licenses and regulates about 285,000 contractors in California, and is regarded as one of the leading consumer protection agencies in the United States. In fiscal year 2014-15, CSLB helped recover nearly $68 million in ordered restitution for consumers.MEDIA DOWNLOADS
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