CSLB Press Release - 03/12/09Contractors State License Board Arrests More Than 100 in Statewide Undercover Sting Operations
Unlicensed operators targeted in simultaneous five-county "California Blitz"
SACRAMENTO — The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) has just completed simultaneous undercover sting operations in five counties throughout California. The "California Blitz" was conducted by 18 CSLB investigators over a two-day period on March 10 and 11, 2009. A preliminary total of 107 people were arrested, including a number of people with outstanding arrest warrants. An additional 23 were given administrative citations at stings, as well as during sweeps of construction sites in two counties. Consumers and legitimate contractors are threatened by operators in the illegal and highly profitable multi-billion dollar underground economy.
In the stings, CSLB investigators posed as homeowners and invited suspected unlicensed operators to houses to bid on various construction jobs, ranging from landscaping, fencing and concrete to cabinets, roofing and painting. The operations were conducted in Contra Costa, Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside and Tulare Counties. Joining CSLB were various local law enforcement agencies and the Fraud Division of the California Department of Insurance.
"Many consumers don’t realize the risk they take when they hire a phony contractor to work on their home," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "With the tough economic times, unlicensed operators seem to be even more aggressive in their methods of going after business."
The sting also revealed the extent to which unlicensed operators will go to try and stop their unlicensed competitors. John Fiore, 43, of Farmersville, who goes by the name "Tree Trimming Monkey," was arrested Wednesday at the Visalia sting. Prior to the sting, Fiore allegedly called an unlicensed competitor, saying he was a consumer who would pay him $1,000 to cut down five trees on his property. That competitor cut down the 80-year-old trees, then went to the consumer for payment. The consumer was completely unaware of the job arrangement. The value of the trees cut down was $20,000. Fiore will now face felony vandalism charges with special allegations since it is believed he has served prison time for crimes that include vehicular hit-and-run that resulted in death, arson, and selling methamphetamines.
On Monday, March 9, 2009, CSLB conducted a sting on a phony contractor who is believed to have scammed at least two consumers in different parts of the state out of more than $250,000.00. Gerald Thissen, 51, drove 275 miles from his home in Encinitas to Exeter, in Tulare County, to give CSLB undercover investigators a rough estimate of between $300,000 and $400,000 for a 20,000- square-foot building that would be used to restore classic cars. He was arrested and will face at least one felony charge.
Other notable arrests include a man with an arrest warrant for spousal abuse, and one who said he bought a fake driver’s license, Social Security card and resident alien card at a flea market.
By law, all contractors who perform work that totals $500 or more (labor and materials) must be licensed by CSLB.
Because unlicensed operators don’t carry workers’ compensation insurance, they often submit lower project bids. But, if a worker is injured on the job, the homeowner could be liable. Plus, if there is a contract disagreement with an unlicensed contractor, the homeowner has very few options.
Other unlicensed people who showed up and bid more than $500 on contracting jobs were arrested and given "Notices to Appear" (NTA) before a Superior Court judge where they will answer to misdemeanor charges of contracting without a license and, in many cases, for illegal advertising. The charges carry a maximum of six months in jail or a $1,000 fine for the first offense. A second violation carries a mandatory 90-day jail sentence.
Another important part of these sting operations is education. CSLB does not want to stop people from being able to make a living. Those arrested and released during the sting operation were encouraged to get a license, and were given an application package with all the necessary information and forms.
The CSLB urges consumers to follow these tips when hiring a contractor:
Be especially hesitant when approached by someone offering home improvement services door-to-door.
Verify the contractor's license by checking online at www.cslb.ca.gov, or via CSLB’s automated phone service at 1-800-321-CSLB (2752).
Don't pay more than 10% down or $1,000, whichever is less.
Don't pay in cash, and don't let the payments get ahead of the work.
Check references; get three bids and a written contract.
Contact CSLB if you have a complaint against a contractor.
Location Participating Agencies Highlights
Kern County Contractors State License Board
Kern County District Attorney’s Office
Kings County District Attorney’s Office
Department of Insurance 25 Notices to Appear
Contra Costa County Contractors State License Board
Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office 23 Notices to Appear
2 Administrative Citations
Riverside County Contractors State License Board
Palm Springs Police Department
Riverside County District Attorney’s Office 14 Notices to Appear
12 Administrative Citations
Porterville (Day 1)
Visalia (Day 2)
Tulare County Contractors State License Board
Tulare County District Attorney’s Office
Department of Insurance 19 Notices to Appear
4 Administrative Citations
Los Angeles County Contractors State License Board
Department of Insurance
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department
Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office 26 Notices to Appear
2 Administrative Citations
In 2009, CSLB, which operates under the umbrella of the Department of Consumer Affairs, marks its 80th anniversary of protecting consumers by regulating California’s construction industry. Today CSLB licenses more than 315,000 contractors. In any given year, complaints are filed against only 3% of licensed contractors. In fiscal year 2007-08, the CSLB helped consumers recover $3