As part of an extensive sting operation spanning seven separate locations throughout the state, investigators from the Contractors State License Board performed a “Blitz” operation which resulted in the arrests of 79 suspected unlicensed contractors last week, including 15 in Long Beach.
The CSLB’s Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) carries out weekly sting operations aimed at clamping down on unlicensed contractors. However, the “Blitz” was a statewide coordination of 13 undercover sting operations using listings placed on Craigslist to locate a majority of those arrested. Two such stings, which took place July 17 and 18, were carried out in Los Angeles County, in the cities of Artesia and Long Beach, yielding a total of 26 arrests.
“The blitz really provides us with a snapshot of the problem,” Tom O’Hair, Public Information Officer for the CSLB, told the Post. “If you basically go in over a two-day period and do these stings up and down the state in different regions, I think it gives us an ability to take a snapshot of the problem and makes it digestible to the public.”
During the investigation, SWIFT agents posed as homeowners seeking home improvement project bids for jobs ranging from landscaping and electrical work to painting and tile work. Contracting without a license is a misdemeanor and if convicted, violators could face up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine. Repeat offenders can face a mandatory 90 day jail sentence. The misdemeanor charges can also be escalated if its discovered that an unlicensed contractor is caught using another person’s license number.
In addition, some of those arrested face other penalties including illegal advertising and requesting an excessive down payment. Legally, a down payment can’t exceed 10 percent of the contract or $1,000 dollars, whichever is less. All violators were given summons to appear in their corresponding Superior Courts.
Other locations involved in in the “blitz” operation included Fresno, Sacramento, Redding and South Lake Tahoe. It’s estimated that there are about 300,000 licensed contractors in the state but that the number of unlicensed contractors may equal or even surpass that number. By carrying out these types of operations, the CSLB is not only protecting consumers but could also be diverting money away from what’s estimated to be a $60-140 billon underground economy in the State that is unaccounted for every year.
Several of those arrested had criminal records or were cited for other offenses at the time of their arrests including possessing drug paraphernalia and one suspect was a convicted child molester. O’Hair said that one problem that consumers are running into when hiring unlicensed workers is that their homeowners insurance doesn’t cover injuries or damages that occur while on the job.
However, O’Hair also said that there’s a quick and easy to use tool on CSLB’s website called “check the license” which allows consumers to do a sort of background check using the license numbers-licensed contractors are legally obligated to list them-of the people they’re planning on hiring.
“You can instantly find out if the license is active, if the license is real and if they have the proper insurance bond,“ O’Hair said of the feature on the site. Take the second and check the license and you can have a much better idea of who you’re dealing with and who you’re inviting into your home.”