Fall 2014      |      Stephen P. Sands, Registrar      |      Edmund G. Brown Jr., Governor


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To protect the integrity of the construction industry and fulfill its consumer protection mission, CSLB's Enforcement division — with the help of partnering state agencies and local law enforcement — works hard to hold accountable those contractors who harm consumers through illegal business practices. Below are several recent cases where CSLB investigations led to successful prosecutions — and time behind bars for offenders.

Long Prison Term for Operator Convicted of Multiple Theft, Contracting Felonies

A repeat unlicensed offender and convicted felon was recently sentenced to 17 years in state prison after a jury convicted him of various theft-related and contracting felonies in connection with a 2011 Moreno Valley home improvement project. The criminal case against Din Van Nguyen was built through the efforts of CSLB staff, whose investigation and court testimony helped convince jurors to convict Nguyen on all counts.

In November 2011, a Moreno Valley resident contracted with Nguyen to perform several home improvement projects for $14,000 that included patio cover repair, drywall installation in the garage, rebuilding an outside barbeque, replacement and painting of wooden trim, and minor electrical work. The CSLB investigation revealed that Nguyen had deceived the consumer into believing that he was licensed by displaying a valid license number that belonged to Nguyen's former employer.

Nguyen received a check of $5,375 as a deposit to start the project. Soon after work started, Nguyen told the consumer that he could not cash the check and demanded a $10,000 cashier's check, plus $300 cash, to complete the project. The consumer complied.

Nguyen worked a total of six days in a four-month period from November 2011 to February 2012 before abandoning the project, but not before leaving behind serious damage. The consumer discovered that Nguyen had damaged their pool equipment and irrigation lines, and believed he had stolen and destroyed tools. The homeowner filed a police report with the Moreno Valley Police Department and filed a civil suit against Nguyen. The cost to correct and complete Nguyen's work has been estimated at more than $26,000.

The CSLB investigation subsequently found that Nguyen previously had been issued two administrative citations for unlicensed contracting in 1999 and 2000. He also spent time in custody on separate domestic violence and child endangerment charges.

The case was referred to the Riverside County District Attorney's Office for prosecution. After being charged, Nguyen forced the matter to trial by rejecting a plea deal offered by prosecutors in exchange for a 10-year state prison term.

Nguyen's decision ended up backfiring on him – due, in large part, to the testimony from a CSLB Peace Officer who served as the Board's expert witness for the June 2014 trial. Following testimony, evidence of criminal wrongdoing, and accounts from other witnesses, jurors quickly found Nguyen guilty on all counts: grand theft, burglary, diversion of construction funds, and fraudulent use of incorrect license number, all felonies; and misdemeanor charges of operating without a license and excessive deposit.

In August 2014, Nguyen received a 17-year term in state prison on the multiple felony convictions. Because he was convicted of a felony for a second time, Nguyen is now considered a "three strikes" candidate, which qualifies him for a 25-year-to-life sentence if he commits a new serious or violent felony after he completes the current prison term.

Jail Time, Restitution Ordered for Attempted Elderly Homeowner Swindle

The wife of a revoked licensee, accused of trying to swindle an elderly Los Angeles man out of his home, received a jail sentence and was ordered to pay restitution. Joelle Cohen, wife of Simon Cohen, pleaded guilty in August 2014 of being an accessory to a crime. She was ordered to serve a 70-day jail term, serve five years on probation, and pay $300,000 in restitution.

Simon Cohen was at the center of a scam to oust John Riepe, 76, from the home that he had lived in since he was 10 years old.

A CSLB investigation found that Cohen, whose contractor license was earlier revoked, manipulated Riepe into signing over his Los Angeles-area home to pay for construction work. Cohen then took possession of the home and put it up for sale until CSLB and Ventura County District Attorney's Office representatives intervened and managed to stop the sale, and file criminal charges.

Simon Cohen pleaded guilty in March 2013 to charges of elder abuse, money laundering, and forgery. As part of a plea agreement, Cohen was ordered to serve 12 months in state prison, pay $500,000 in costs, and return ownership rights and the keys to Riepe's home.

Cohen was working at the time under his wife Joelle's license, which she obtained in 2008. She was listed as the CEO/president of Silver Star Construction Inc., but later, in testimony before the Ventura County Grand Jury, Simon Cohen admitted that he was the real owner/operator of the business.

Simon Cohen also is an accused co-conspirator in a larger scheme to defraud Southern California homeowners that has led to 19 people being charged with crimes, including revoked licensee Avi Gozlan. Fifteen individuals already have pleaded guilty in that case.

Shortly after his guilty plea in the Riepe case, Simon Cohen is believed to have fled to Morocco.

Habitual Offender Already Serving Term Gets More Cell Time

The prison doors will stay shut a while longer for a notorious unlicensed operator with a long history of scamming consumers in the San Diego and Central Coast areas.


Alex Pike Mitchell

Alex Pike Mitchell had a 40-month state prison sentence tacked on to the term he is already serving for numerous prior convictions for contracting without a license and ripping off unsuspecting consumers. His exploits earned him a place on CSLB's Most Wanted list of egregious violators last year.

The most current charges stemmed from his Santa Cruz County paving scams. Mitchell targeted the elderly or homeowners with long driveways, telling them that he was working in the area and had leftover paving materials. Once the contract was signed, Mitchell would collect down payments ranging from $1,000-$2,500 and never return to do the work.

Mitchell pleaded guilty to five felony counts of theft by false pretenses, and four counts of operating without a contractor license with a prior conviction, as well as a workers' compensation insurance violation. Restitution of $17,575 was ordered to compensate seven victims.

When questioned about what he did, Mitchell told a probation officer, "I am a compulsive liar," and "I tell people what I think they want to hear."

Mitchell is already in the midst of serving a four-year sentence with a 50/50 split of the time, meaning he is serving two years in San Diego County Jail and two years on mandatory supervision. He was ordered to pay $9,300 in victim restitution in the San Diego-area case.

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