cslb sting operationInvestigators with the Contractors State License Board cited nine Southland men, including a Long Beach resident, for allegedly contracting without a license during a sting operation in Lawndale last week, CSLB officials announced. A further investigation revealed that two of the men cited were registered sex offenders.

The following men and their alleged violations are listed below:

  • Herman Jose Pineda-Barres of Long Beach, cited for contracting without a license and illegal advertising
  • Jeremiah Faima Tofiga of Torrance, cited for contracting without a license
  • Michael Patrick Fischer of Hermosa Beach, cited for contracting without a license and illegal advertising
  • Manuel Rocael Argueta-Villatoro of Lawndale, cited for contracting without a license and illegal advertising
  • Arturo Torres of Inglewood, cited for contracting without a license and illegal advertising
  • Carl James Patrick of El Segundo, cited for contracting without a license and illegal advertising
  • Nicolas Lopez Garcia of Buena Park, cited for contracting without a license, illegal advertising and fraudulent use of an incorrect license number
  • Valentine John Torres of Venice, cited for contracting without a license
  • Edwin Orlando Herrera-Lopez of Lawndale, cited for contracting without a license and illegal advertising

A list of the suspected unlicensed contractors was compiled by CSLB’s Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) by searching through local ads and Craigslist as well as collecting business cards, a CSLB release stated.

Then, on May 25 the investigators invited the people on their list to place bids on home improvement projects for a multi-family home near Jane Adams Middle School in Lawndale, officials stated.

Those who showed up at the home placed bids that ranged from $1,500 for drywall and interior painting to $9,500 for exterior painting. According to officials, any home improvement job costing $500 or more in combined labor and material costs requires a state-issued contractor license.

The suspects were then cited with the help of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. While citing, officers discovered two suspects were registered sex offenders listed on the state Megan’s Law database, according to the release.

Though officials did not state which two alleged violators are registered sex offenders, a search on the database found Carl Patrick and Valentine Torres on the list with the same offense: lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14 years of age.

In addition, Valentine’s last known address on the database was listed as Long Beach.

“CSLB requires all licensees to pass a background check, trade, law, and business exams,” stated CSLB Registrar Cindi Christenson. “Consumers take financial and personal risks when they allow unlicensed contractors into their homes.”

All nine suspects were cited with contracting without a license—a misdemeanor charge.

“First-conviction penalties for contracting without a license include up to six months in jail and/or up to $5,000 in fines,” the release stated. “Penalties are more severe with each successive violation.”

Those accused of illegal advertising were also given a notice to appear, according to the release. Unlicensed contractors are required by contracting law to state in all advertising that they are not licensed, the release stated.

Lopez Garcia may face a felony charge for fraudulently using a license number without permission, the release added. That charge can carry a fine of up to $10,000 and/or up to a year in state prison or county jail.

Those cited are scheduled to appear on August 24-25 in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

CSLB urges all California consumers to follow these tips before hiring a home improvement contractor:

  • Verify the contractor’s license online at www.cslb.ca.gov or www.CheckTheLicenseFirst.com, or via CSLB’s automated phone system at 1.800.321.CSLB (2752)
  • Ask to see a photo identification to verify the contractor’s identity
  • Don’t pay more than 10 percent down or $1,000, whichever is less
  • Don’t pay in cash, or let the payments get ahead of the work
  • Get at least three bids and insist on a written contract before your project begins
  • Visit CSLB’s website for more tips about how to hire a contractor and to sign up for CSLB Email Alerts.

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 2014-15, CSLB helped recover nearly $68 million in ordered restitution for consumers.

Above, left photo courtesy of CSLB.

Stephanie Rivera is the community engagement editor. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter at @StephRivera88.