Spring California Blitz highlights serious risks consumers take when hiring unlicensed contractors
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SACRAMENTO – More than seven dozen people may face criminal charges after being caught by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) in simultaneous undercover sting operations conducted March 10 and 11, 2015, in seven cities throughout California.
“Several of the suspects we targeted turned out to be repeat offenders and individuals with a criminal history and drug violations,” said CSLB Registrar Cindi. “If you knew their backgrounds, you’d never allow them near your home or family.”
Among those caught during CSLB’s spring California Blitz were a dozen repeat offenders, one suspect with an active arrest warrant, four suspects on probation, and one former CSLB licensee. Suspects who turned out to have serious criminal backgrounds were targeted because of ads they posted on craigslist.org, local fliers, business cards, and complaints to CSLB and local government agencies.
Investigators from CSLB’s Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) partnered with a variety of local law enforcement agencies to conduct the operations at homes in Bakersfield (Kern County), Gardena (Los Angeles County), Ione (Amador County), Madera (Madera County), Rancho Mirage (Riverside County), San Diego (San Diego County), and Tracy (San Joaquin County).
SWIFT investigators called suspected unlicensed operators for home improvement bids that included painting, landscaping, sprinklers, pool maintenance, cabinetry, electrical, wrought iron, flooring, fencing, masonry, tile, plumbing, concrete, and tree removal work.
All 85 individuals arrested may face misdemeanor charges for contracting without a license(Business and Professions Code section 7028). The penalty for a first conviction is up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $5,000.
Seventy-seven suspects also may be charged with illegal advertising (Business and Professions Code section 7027.1). State law requires contractors to place their 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.
Three others may be charged with requesting an excessive down payment (Business and Professions Code section 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.
Six of the phony contractors also were issued Stop Orders (Business and Professions Code section 7127). CSLB investigators can halt job site activity when any person, with or without a contractor license, does not have workers’ compensation insurance coverage for employees. Failure to comply with a Stop Order can result in misdemeanor charges and penalties, including 60 days in jail and/or up to $10,000 in fines.
“One of the suspects was brazenly using a contractor license number that belongs to a legitimate contractor,” added Christenson. “Always be sure to check your contractor’s license number on the CSLB website and ask the contractor for photo identification to verify the person’s identity.”
Blitz totals may increase as some suspects are expected to provide their bids at a later date to undercover investigators via text, email or fax.