79 arrested in sting operations by California contractors license board

07/20/2013 12:00 AM

07/19/2013 10:19 PM

The "California Blitz" isn't a mob movie or an episode of "NCIS," and the goal is not to catch a predator. But simultaneous sting operations this week led to arrests of 79 people suspected of contracting without a license.

The Contractors State License Board conducted 13 undercover operations Wednesday and Thursday in seven locations throughout the state, according to a news release. Sacramento contributed 11 suspected unlicensed contractors to the arrest count.

"We want to warn consumers that there are lots of unlicensed contractors," said Rick Lopes, chief of public affairs for the license board. "By doing a lot of arrests together, we can get a snapshot of the issue and let audiences know there's a real risk. We also want to let licensed contractors know we're out here, because unlicensed contractors are taking away a lot of their business."

Investigators from the board's statewide investigative fraud team targeted individuals for contracting without a license, illegal advertising and requesting an excessive down payment. The arrests include a convicted felon, a registered sex offender and two suspects with drugs or drug paraphernalia.

Of the 11 suspected unlicensed contractors arrested in Sacramento, two were taken to jail, one for possession of an illegal substance and another for possession of drug paraphernalia and having an arrest warrant.

These blitzes happen three times a year, with regular weekly operations taking place year-round. Investigators pose as homeowners looking for bids for home improvement projects such as painting, electrical work and landscaping.

Lopes said the conviction rates in these roundups are high, and cases are prepared and given to district attorney's offices for prosecution. The majority of people arrested are first-time offenders who are often fined, he said, and they are encouraged to apply for their contractor's license before they go to court.

"That's the goal," Lopes said. "We're not trying to put people out of work if they're good contractors. We want them to get licensed."

He said the undercover operations focus on people who are trying to stay one step ahead of law enforcement.

"A couple people we find have drugs, paraphernalia or they're a convicted felon or registered sex offender who would never pass the criminal background check to get a license," Lopes said. "These are the people consumers are inviting into their house."

Those arrested this week were given a notice to appear in Superior Court. Contracting without a license is a misdemeanor, and the penalty if convicted can include six months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.

Of the 79 people arrested, 52 may be charged with illegal advertising, which can lead to a fine of up to $1,000. State law requires that contractors give their license numbers in advertisements, and those who do not have a license must say so in their ads. Unlicensed contractors can't take on jobs valued at more than $500.

Thirteen people could be charged for requesting too much money for a down payment, which in California can't be more than 10 percent of the contract or $1,000, whichever is less. The crime is a misdemeanor and can lead to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Stop orders – which discontinue an activity when a contractor doesn't have workers' compensation insurance coverage for employees – were issued to 13 people. Ignoring a stop order can lead to misdemeanor charges and penalties that include 60 days in jail and a $10,000 fine.

Other locations where stings were conducted are Artesia, Fresno, Long Beach, Oxnard, Redding and South Lake Tahoe.

Call The Bee's Morgan Searles, (916) 321-1102. Follow her on Twitter @MorganSearles

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