CSLB Catches 110 in Statewide Series of Undercover Stings
Suspects include four with active arrest warrants, two registered sex offenders, two revoked licensees
SACRAMENTO —The risks homeowners take by hiring unlicensed contractors were magnified this week during the Contractors State License Board's (CSLB) annual spring "California Blitz." Simultaneous operations were under way on March 14 and 15 in seven different counties around the state, and resulted in 110 arrests and Notices to Appear (NTA) in criminal court. Suspected unlicensed contractors include two convicted sex offenders, four with active arrest warrants, and several repeat offenders.
Undercover stings were conducted in Chico (Butte County), Clovis (Fresno County), Grover Beach (San Luis Obispo County), Lawndale (Los Angeles County), Murrieta (Riverside County), Redwood City (San Mateo County), and Visalia and Porterville (Tulare County). CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) partnered with local prosecutors' offices and law enforcement agencies, as well as Employment Development Department (EDD) representatives.
At all sting locations, CSLB investigators posed as homeowners and invited suspected unlicensed contractors to bid on various construction jobs ranging from landscaping, patio covers, painting, plumbing, and roofing to concrete, tile, flooring, fencing, and tree trimming. By law, all contractors who perform work that totals $500 or more for labor and materials must be licensed by CSLB. Since 2005, those who apply for a new license or to change their license have been required to submit fingerprints for a criminal background check.
The 110 who received NTAs will face misdemeanor charges of contracting without a license and, in many cases, illegal advertising, soliciting excessive down payments, and failure to carry workers' compensation insurance coverage. A suspect at the Visalia sting, Benjamin Davidson, was taken into custody for having six active arrest warrants (four with no bail) related to driving under the influence. He is awaiting extradition to Humboldt County. A suspect caught at the Redwood City sting brought a friend who is a parolee from Missouri with an active no-bail arrest warrant for battery in Placer County. Officers who took him into custody found he was in possession of drugs. Two suspects in the Clovis sting also had arrest warrants; others were found to be in possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia. Two suspects (one each in Redwood City and Murrieta) are convicted sex offenders.
Two others already had their CSLB licenses revoked. Mostafa Karkori's (Redwood City sting, license #662832) was revoked in 2010 and Ernie Zubia Pinon (Visalia sting, license #823586) was revoked in 2009.
"Homeowners need to be aware of the risk they take when they hire someone who is not licensed to do work in their home," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "What seems like a good deal almost always ends up costing a lot more. Many of these phony contractors are people you really don't want inside your house or around your family."
Homeowners face serious financial loss and risk of worker injury on their property, including potential liability for injuries sustained by a worker not covered by workers' compensation insurance. If there is a disagreement or something goes wrong with the project, the homeowner may have few options for recovering their money from an unlicensed contractor. Legitimate, licensed contractors face unfair competition from illegal operators who skirt laws that protect homeowners and workers.
The goal of the "California Blitz" is to draw attention to the dangers consumers risk when they hire these phony contractors, to educate unlicensed workers about California laws, and to encourage those who qualify to get their contractor license. The misdemeanor charges carry a maximum of six months in jail and/or a fine up to $5,000 for the first offense. A second violation carries a mandatory 90-day jail sentence, as well as a possible fine up to $5,000.
California Blitz highlights:
|11 Notices to Appear||April 27, 2012|
San Mateo County
|19 Notices to Appear||May 14, 2012|
|13 Notices to Appear||April 22 and 29, 2012|
|Visalia (Day 1) and Porterville (Day 2)
|11 Notices to Appear
(11 Visalia, 11 Porterville)
|May 22 (Visalia) and May 29 (Porterville), 2012|
San Luis Obispo County
|13 Notices to Appear||April 30, 2012|
Los Angeles County
|21 Notices to Appear||June 4 - 7, 2012|
|11 Notices to Appear||June 7, 2012|
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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