Unlicensed contractors caught in sting

ARTESIA – Twelve unlicensed contractors were caught in an undercover sting operation conducted by the state licensing board in Artesia last week. In all, 97 people were arrested in separate sting operations that stretched from Artesia to as far north as South Lake Tahoe.

Among those arrested were 11 repeat offenders, four sex offenders, four suspects with active arrest warrants, four suspects on probation, and a woman who received widespread media attention last year as a so-called “Sweetheart Swindler.”

Three suspects were taken to jail while others received notices to appear in court.

“It’s particularly disturbing how many of the suspects we targeted turned out to be convicted criminals, many with a history of violent crimes and drugs,” said Steve Sands, registrar of the Contractors State License Board (CSLB). “If you knew their backgrounds, you’d never allow them in your home.”

Between July 15-16, investigators from the CSLB’s Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) posed as homeowners seeking bids for home improvements such as painting, electrical, decking, landscaping, flooring, drywall, fencing, concrete, and tree removal work.

Authorities caught 12 unlicensed contractors in Artesia, including a repeat offender who was given an administrative citation a few weeks ago. One suspect tried to flee but was caught by investigators.

In Rocklin, Calif., investigators caught Samantha Pham, who is on probation after pleading guilty to various felonies last year, including theft from an elder and allegation of aggravated white collar crime.

Pham was convicted of swindling an elderly man out of a luxury car, $200,000, and his Bay Area home. Her sentence includes three years of supervised probation.

Her latest arrest is for contracting without a license through a local business she runs, Bella’s Kitchen and Bath. She faces a number of new charges that include contracting without a license, fraudulent use of a CSLB license number, and requesting an excessive down payment.

Three convicted sex offenders also showed up at the Rocklin sting. One suspect and his worker had met at a recovery facility.

Eighty-two suspects also may be charged with illegal advertising. State law requires contractors to place their license number in all 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 a licensed contractor. The penalty is a fine of $700 to $1,000.

Ten others may be charged with requesting an excessive down payment. In California, a home improvement project down payment cannot exceed 10 percent of the contract total or $1,000, whichever is less. This misdemeanor charge carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail or up to a $5,000 fine.

Two of the phony contractors also were issued stop orders. CSLB investigators can halt job site activity when any person with or without a contractor license does not have workers’ compensation insurance coverage for employees.

All of the contractors caught in the sting operation were found through ads posted on Craigslist.



Published: July 31, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 16