CSLB Cites Illegal Contractor with Criminal Past in Orange County Undercover Sting

Suspect among six cited for illegal contracting in Brea operation

SACRAMENTO – Homeowners take a big risk when they allow unlicensed contractors into their homes. A good example of this risk is a man with a violent criminal history who was caught in an undercover sting operation in Orange County.

The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) nabbed Elbert Ma during an undercover operation in Brea on April 17-18, 2019. Ma and five other suspects were cited for illegal contracting.

CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) and Orange County District Attorney's Office set up the sting at a single-family home in Downtown Brea. Investigators posed as residents looking for help with home improvement projects. They received bids ranging from $2,500 for electrical rewiring to $17,500 for landscaping and electrical work, well above the legal threshold for work that requires a contractor license.

In California, a state contracting license is required for all home improvement projects valued at $500 or more in combined labor and material costs. As a result of the sting, five of the suspects could now face a misdemeanor charge of contracting without a license (Business and Professions Code (BPC) §7028(a)). First-conviction penalties include up to six months in jail and/or up to $5,000 in fines.

Suspect Ma has a violent criminal history in Orange County. He recently applied for a CSLB license but was denied because of his criminal past. Mr. Ma is appealing that decision.

"Consumers need to be careful about who they allow into their home," said CSLB Registrar David Fogt. "Some try to work without a license because they know they wouldn't pass CSLB's criminal background check." Fortunately, it's easy for consumers to check on a contractor's license before calling them out for a bid.

Consumers should perform an "instant license check" on CSLB's website by searching by a contractor's name, their business, or their license number. Homeowners can also get a list of licensed contractors in their area by using the "find my licensed contractor" feature to search by city or ZIP code.

During the Orange County sting, another suspect was cited for knowingly using a license number that did not belong to him on his advertisement. Viliami Tupou may face a fine of up to $10,000 and/or a one-year jail sentence for this violation (BPC §7027.3). Consumers should always ask to see a contractors' photo ID and compare it with the name on their contractor's pocket license. Tupou also was cited for illegal contracting and failing to pay civil penalties for a previously issued citation (BPC §7028.17).

Five of the suspects also were cited for illegal advertising. Licensed contractors must display their license number in all advertisements and unlicensed contractors must state in all ads that they do not have a license (BPC §7027.1). The penalty for violating the advertising rules for unlicensed contractors is a fine of $700 to $1,000. Unlicensed contractors must state in their ads that they are not licensed.

CSLB reminds customers to follow these tips:

  • Verify the license owner, business name and address and ask for a picture I.D.
  • Get three bids and check references
  • Get a written contract
  • Do not pay more than 10 percent down or $1,000, whichever is less
  • Do not let payments get ahead of the work
  • Do not pay cash

All suspects were ordered to appear on July 11 or July 18 at the Orange County Superior Court, 700 Civic Center Drive West, Santa Ana, CA 92701.

NOTE: All suspects are presumed innocent until their case is resolved.

BREA DAY 1 – APRIL 17, 2019
Viliami Tupou
Los Alamitos
C-36 Plumbing Contractor Contracting Without a License,
Failing to comply with an administrative citation,
Fraudulent use of incorrect license number
Elbert Ma
Buena Park
C-36 Plumbing Contractor Contracting Without a License,
Illegal Advertising

BREA DAY 2 – APRIL 18, 2019
Eric Jacobsen
C-10 Electrical Contractor Contracting Without a License,
Illegal Advertising
Omar Estrada Ayala
C-10 Electrical Contractor Contracting Without a License,
Illegal Advertising
Jose Hernandez
Laguna Hills
C-27 Landscaping Contractor,
C-10 Electrical Contractor
Contracting Without a License,
Illegal Advertising
Salvador Lopez
Santa Ana
B – General Building Contractor Contracting Without a License,
Illegal Advertising

The Contractors State License Board operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. CSLB licenses and regulates almost 290,000 contractors in California and is regarded as one of the leading consumer protection agencies in the United States. In fiscal year 2017-18, CSLB helped recover over $50 million in ordered restitution for consumers.

Archives: 2020 2019 2018