Unlicensed Contractors Caught in Napa Burn Area May Face Felony Charges After Showing Up to CSLB Sting Operation


Agencies joined forces in Napa County to protect fire survivors from getting scammed when rebuilding

SACRAMENTO - As communities in Napa County begin to recover from the devastating October 2017 wildfires, local law enforcement and other government agencies are doing everything they can to protect fire survivors from being scammed by those trying to take advantage of this tragedy. Last week, the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) partnered with the Napa County Sheriff's Department and the Napa County District Attorney's (DA) Office to conduct an undercover sting operation to catch unlicensed contractors working in the Tubbs Fire burn area. Six unlicensed people may face felony charges - three of whom were transported to jail and three of whom are the subject of further investigation by the Napa County District Attorney's office. Five suspects received a notice to appear in court for alleged illegal contracting violations.

On April 25, 2018, investigators from CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) invited suspected unlicensed contractors to place bids on home improvement projects for a single-family home that was nearly destroyed by the wildfire. Bids ranged from $4,000 for new landscaping to $14,800 to install a new metal gate for the driveway entrance. Six individuals who placed bids to fix property damaged by the wildfire may face felony charges for contracting without a license in a declared disaster area (Business and Professions Code (BPC) section 7028.16). In California, a contractor license is required for construction projects valued over $500. The penalty for this violation increases from a misdemeanor to a felony charge in disaster areas and has a potential penalty of up to three years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

"It is unfortunate that unscrupulous people go to disaster areas to try and take advantage of people when they are vulnerable," said CSLB Registrar David R. Fogt. "This is why it is so important for homeowners to take their time finding the right contractor and check the license first."

Five additional suspects may face a misdemeanor charges for other illegal contracting violations. The five people that placed bids over the legal limit on repairs that were unrelated to fire damage received a citation for alleged unlicensed contracting (Business and Professions Code (BPC) § 7028). First-conviction penalties for contracting without a license include up to six months in jail and/or up to $5,000 in fines. A second conviction can carry a mandatory sentence of up to 90 days in jail. Penalties are more severe with each successive violation.

During the citation process, Napa County officers searched all suspects and conducted a standard background check and discovered that two men who received NTA's were currently on probation for previous crimes. One had a domestic violence charge, and the other was on probation for driving under the influence.

Four of the suspects received another citation for illegal advertising (BPC § 7027.1). State law requires that unlicensed contractors note in all advertising that they are not licensed, and licensed contractors must list their license number. Two men were cited for demanding excessive down payments (BPC § 7159.5). It's illegal for contractors to ask for more than 10 percent down or $1,000, whichever is less.

One suspect also received a citation for lacking workers' compensation insurance for his employees (Labor Code 3700.5). As a condition of licensure, contractors must carry workers' compensation for all employees. This coverage insures that if a worker is injured on the homeowner's property, the consumer is not held liable.

All offenders were ordered to appear in court on June 25, 2018 in Napa County Superior Court, 825 Brown St., Napa, Ca 94559.

NOTE: All suspects are presumed innocent until their case is resolved. The three suspects referred to the DA for additional investigation are not included in the chart below.


SUSPECT NAME
CITY OF RESIDENCE
LICENSE CLASSIFICATION ALLEGED VIOLATION
Bobby Joe Selegrath
Vallejo
C-10 – Electrical Illegal advertising,
Excessive down payment
Rene Pinmantail Gonzalez
Vacaville
C-23 – Ornamental Metal Contracting without a license,
Illegal advertising,
No workers’ comp insurance
Rescendo Roderico
Caleron DeLeon
C-13 – Fencing Contracting without a license,
Illegal advertising,
Excessive down payment
Tony Hernandez
Napa
C-27– Landscaping Contracting without a license,
Illegal advertising,
Excessive down payment
Erick Bearrera Vasquez
Napa
C-27– Landscaping Contracting without a license
Ramon Heriberto
Navarrete Frayde
Antioch
C-33 – Painting and Decorating Contracting without a license in declared disaster area,
Illegal advertising,
Excessive down payment
Rafael Vasquez Martinez
Vallejo
C-33 – Painting and Decorating Contracting without a license in declared disaster area,
Excessive down payment
Jose Antonio Garcia Montiel
Vallejo
C-33 – Painting and Decorating Contracting without a license in declared disaster area,
Excessive down payment

Always "check the license first" before hiring a contractor by visiting www.cslb.ca.gov or by calling 800-321-CSLB (2752). CSLB has introduced a new website feature to help consumers start their search for a licensed contractor. The new "Find My Licensed Contractor" feature enables users to build a list of all licensed contractors, sorted by trade, in a specific geographic area.

CSLB encourages wildfire survivors to take their time, do thorough research, and avoid rushing into any repairs, no matter how badly they are needed. Visit CSLB's Disaster Help Center for more tips on rebuilding after a natural disaster.

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 2016-17, CSLB helped recover over $47 million in ordered restitution for consumers.

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