A sting operation by the Contractors State License Board resulted in the arrest of four individuals for conducting business without a valid contractor's license, including three individuals in Merced County.
In the sting operation, conducted Thursday, CSLB investigators, posing as homeowners, sought bids for landscaping, warm-air heating, ventilating and air-conditioning, and painting projects.
Jose De Jesus Escobar from Jesse's Tree Service in Madera showed up at a house near Merced College to give homeowners a bid for landscaping work and instead was taken into custody.
CSLB investigators were tipped to Escobar by a former illegal contractor, who's now operating legally as a licensed contractor. Escobar was taken to jail on a no-bail arrest warrant from Colusa County for violating probation after a driving under the influence conviction.
Four suspects, including Escobar, received notices to appear in court to face a misdemeanor charge of contracting without a license. Home improvement projects valued at $500 or more in labor and materials must be done by a state-licensed contractor.
Three of the four will face an additional misdemeanor charge or illegal advertising. California law requires contractors to put their license number in all advertisements. Those who contract for jobs valued at less than $500 may advertise their services, but their ads must state that they are not a licensed contractor. Two suspects were contacted through their ads on Craigslist.
Three of the four suspects brought workers with them and were therefore issued stop orders, prohibiting them from using employee labor for any jobs until they secure a workers' compensation insurance policy.
Additionally, Abelino Mauro Lopez-Ramos was cited for requesting an excessive down payment. State law prohibits asking for or receiving down payments larger than 10 percent of the contract price or $1,000, whichever is less. Lopez-Ramos submitted bid for a new HVAC system that totaled more than $4,000, and asked for 50 percent down.
Cited were: Escobar; Emilliano Garcia Rojas of Emilliano Garcia Landscaping in Merced; Lucas Benjamin Sanchez of Winton; and Lopez-Ramos of Express Repair in Winton.
CSLB urges consumers to follow these tips before hiring anyone to work on their home:
• Hire only licensed contractors and ask to see their license and a photo ID to verify their identity.
• Always check the license number on CSLB's website at www.cslb.ca.gov or www.CheckTheLicenseFirst.com to make sure the license is in good standing.
• Don't pay more than 10 percent or $1,000, whichever is less, as a down payment. There is an exception for about two dozen licensees who carry special bonds to protect consumers. These exceptions are noted on CSLB's website.
• Don't pay in cash, and don't let payments get ahead of the work.
• Get at least three bids, check references, and get a written contract.