General Crime

* Contractor Sting Leads to 92 Arrests of Alleged Unlicensed Contractors

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Nearly 100 people, including 14 Bay Area residents, could face criminal charges after being arrested in statewide undercover sting targeting unlicensed contractors. Fraud investigators from the Contractors State License Board said at a news conference in Union City today that they conducted stings on Wednesday and Thursday in Alameda, Sonoma, Monterey, Los Angeles, Placer, San Diego and San Luis Obispo counties.

Investigators posed as homeowners seeking bids for home improvements such as painting, flooring, landscaping, fence repair, tree trimming, gutter installation, and water heater replacement. A total of 92 individuals were arrested and now may face misdemeanor charges of contracting without a license. State licensing officials said the penalty for a conviction is up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $5,000. They said at least two of those arrested this week are repeat offenders who now face a mandatory 90-day jail sentence if convicted a second time.

State officials said 77 of those who were arrested also may be charged with illegal advertising, as state law requires contractors to place their license number in all print, broadcast, and online advertisements. They said 12 others may be charged with requesting an excessive down payment, as in California a down payment cannot exceed 10 percent of the contract total or $1,000, whichever is less. In addition, they said 14 of the allegedly phony contractors were issued Stop Orders.

Investigators said they contacted the suspects after finding them online at websites such as Craigslist, in fliers left on homeowner’s doors or by word-of-mouth from legitimately-licensed contractors who knew their competitors were not licensed. They said that under California law, any job estimated at more than $500 must be performed by someone with a state license. State licensing officials said consumers should look for a contractor’s state license number because California law requires contractors to place their license number in 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 licensed. State officials said consumers also should check contractors’ license number on the Contractors State License Board website. In addition, they said consumers should get at least three bids and check references and shouldn’t let payments get ahead of work.

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