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Update: 11 arrested as allegedly unlicensed contractors in Merced sting operation

SACRAMENTO — The Contractors State License Board said it arrested 11 allegedly unlicensed Merced-area contractors.

In spite of an online warning to unlicensed contractors posted on an electronic marketplace Web site, operators were still caught in illegal contracting activity at a Merced home, the board’s Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) said in a news release.

It said it issued 11 notices to appear (NTA) in court for contracting without a license; nine notices included illegal advertising methods and three included soliciting an excessive down payment.

SWIFT said it was assisted in its pre-New Year’s undercover sting operation by the Merced County District Attorney’s Office and the Merced Police Department.

SWIFT investigators posed as homeowners at a house near downtown Merced during the Dec. 30 operation.

They solicited bids for home improvement jobs that included concrete, painting and tile work. Suspected unlicensed operators were sought through advertisements in local print media and online ads. The 11 suspects who received NTAs are scheduled to be in Merced County Court March 23, the news release continued.

According to state law, people who don’t have a license can legally perform home improvement work only if it’s valued at less than $500. They must also state in their ads that they are not state-licensed contractors. The California Business & Professions Code also prohibits taking down payments larger than $1,000 or 10 percent of the contract price, whichever is less.

There’s an exception to the down-payment law for about two dozen contractors who buy special bonds for consumer protection. Those exceptions are noted on CSLB’s Web site: www.cslb.ca.gov.

“An online warning posted to lawbreakers should help the public realize that an advertisement alone does not mean a business is operating legally and legitimately,” said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. “Always check the license first. It only takes a couple of minutes to check out a contractor on the CLSB Web site to find out if there has been any disciplinary action taken against the license.”

To become licensed, the board said, a contractor must have at least four years of journey-level experience and pass two licensing exams. CSLB licensees also must carry workers’ compensation insurance for employees other than themselves. Roofers, however, must also cover themselves with workers’ compensation insurance because of the risks involved with that trade, the news release said. Licensees also must carry bonds that enable consumers to recoup project losses or damages.

In any given year, 97 percent of licensed California contractors maintain a clear record without a single complaint filed against them, the news release said.

The board said the following were arrested:

Brian Russell McCullough, 54, Merced, concrete, contracting without a license, advertising violations;Johnny Gonzales, 48, Grayson, painting, contracting without a license, soliciting excessive down payment, advertising violations;David Lee Mercado, 36, Livingston, painting, contracting without a license, advertising violations;Ramon Wilfredo Diaz, 41, Merced, painting, contracting without a license, soliciting excessive down payment, advertising violations;Julian Arteaga-Gomez, 35, Atwater, concrete, contracting without a license, advertising violations;Jose Martinez Resendis, 35, Merced, painting, contracting without a license, advertising violations;Ruth Peña Sarabia, 25, Merced, painting, contracting without a license;Jason David Zimmerman, 42, Merced, painting, contracting without a license, advertising violations;Damien Sheldahl, 31, Atwater, painting, contracting without a license, soliciting excessive down payment;Jose Salvador Martinez, 35, Merced, concrete, contracting without a license, advertising violations;Randy Howard Cox, 55, Merced, tile, contracting without a license.

The board said other parts of the Merced sting included the arrest of one unlicensed contractor on an outstanding domestic violence warrant; another unlicensed contractor brought a friend who was arrested on a felony warrant for drugs and child support violations.

Since 2005, all applicants for CSLB licenses or changes in classifications have had to submit fingerprints for a criminal background check.

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