SALINAS, Calif. - - The net was set, and six allegedly unlicensed contractors in Monterey County were nabbed back in late January. The sting was arranged in conjunction with the Contractors State License Board fraud team. Now the suspects are facing misdemeanor charges and one suspect is facing a felony charge for displaying a contractor's license not his own. All six suspects are facing fines and jail time and are being arraigned this week.
The six suspects cited for contracting without a license and illegal advertising are Alejandro De Leon Castaneda of Marina, Mario Gene Cabaccang of Salinas, Francisco Ramon Alcaraz of Castroville, Joaquin Valencia Martinez of Salinas, Juan Jose Vera of Salinas and Alonso Quezada Banuelos of Seaside. Cabaccang is also facing a charge for excessive down payment and a felony charge for displaying a license not issued to him. That felony comes with the prospect of a $10,000 fine and year in jail. Martinez and Vera are also facing an additional charge of excessive down payment. All are set for arraignment in Monterey County Superior Court on Thursday May 8.
Rick Lopes with the CSLB tells Central Coast News that their investigative fraud team held the sting in a home in Salinas with a large, empty backyard where investigators requested bids for various landscaping projects. The highest bid received during the sting was $15,000 for new sod and related projects. Suspected unlicensed landscaping operators were found advertising on online bulletin boards, including craigslist.
"Professional landscapers are not like gardeners who usually don't need a contractor license for maintenance or small, low-cost projects," CSLB Registrar Steve Sands said. "You always should check CSLB's website to see if the landscaper bidding on your job has an active contractor license that is in good standing."
In California, all home improvement jobs valued at $500 or more must be conducted by a company or person with a CSLB-issued license. First-conviction penalties for contracting without a license include up to six months in jail and/or up to $5,000 in fines.
As far as down payments go, licensed contractors are legally allowed to ask for 10 percent or $1,000 up front, whichever is lesser amount.
"Most of the people we arrest during an undercover sting operation do one of two things," says Lopes, "They either start the process to get their license, or they find something else to do for a living. Part of the reason why there's more than a month between the arrest and the court date, is to give them an opportunity to apply for a license and get the process started. Often, if they go before a judge and say they have begun the process of getting a license, the judge will usually give them a fine. Usually in the $500-$700 range. But, if they get caught and convicted a second time, it's a mandatory 90 days in jail."
Lopes says some get the message and go legal after being busted one time. "What they don't understand is that they are on our radar."
It's also likely that the CSLB will receive consumer complaints against the worst of the unlicensed operators, and build criminal cases based upon these victims.
Remember, if you question a contractor, log onto the CSLB website and search for their license number and any information about that person.
You'll be glad you did.