21 contractors caught in sting
Suspects said to lack licenses
A sting operation at a home near Madera High School allegedly snared 21 contractors late last week for various misdemeanors, such as lack of a state license.
The suspects are set to appear in Madera County Superior Court at 8:30 a.m. on Feb. 7 or Feb. 9. Most of the suspects live in Fresno, but four live in Madera and one resides in Clovis.
The Madera County District Attorney’s Office partnered with the California Highway Patrol and the Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) for the sting.
“In many cases there’s a reason why these people don’t get a license,” said Contractors State License Board registrar Cindi Christenson. “Some suspects have a criminal history, a record of victimizing unsuspecting consumers, or some other reason why they’re trying to fly under the radar.”
One of the suspects caught during this sting was recently arrested in a Department of Justice operation for illegally modifying weapons. Five others were caught in previous board stings — one for the third time.
“That’s why it’s critical that consumers verify that the person they’re considering for a home improvement job has the appropriate contractor license using CSLB’s Instant License Check feature on our website,” said Christenson.
SWIFT agents posed as homeowners and called suspects seeking bids for work. They received bids ranging from $785 to $9,880 for work such as tree trimming, tree removal, stump removal, exterior painting, installation of a new water heater, replacement of a garage door, installation of an outdoor kitchen, installation of an ornamental iron fence, and the replacement of a roof.
In California, anyone who offers to perform home improvement work exceeding $500 or more in materials and/or labor needs a state contractor’s license.
Twenty-one suspects will face various charges including contracting without a state license. First conviction penalties for contracting without a license include up to six months in jail and/or up to $5,000 in fines. Penalties are more severe with each successive violation. Twenty of the suspects also received citations for illegal advertising for failing to state in their ads that they were not licensed.
Eleven suspects could face a charge of soliciting an illegally large down payment. By law, a home improvement down payment cannot exceed $1,000 or 10 percent of the contract price, whichever is less.
“Spending a little time beforehand doing your homework can save you a lot of grief and aggravation later,” Christenson said. “Consumers can also make sure the contractor carries workers’ compensation insurance, covering injuries to workers while on their property. Unlicensed operators rarely, if ever, carry workers’ compensation insurance. This is especially important for dangerous work high off the ground.”
Application packets were made available to suspects, who were encouraged to apply for a license prior to next February’s court date.
Visit www.checkthelicensefirst.com to check if someone has a contractor’s license.