Rocklin, Calif, – Ninety-seven people may face criminal charges after being caught in 14 simultaneous statewide undercover sting operations conducted this week by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB).
Among those arrested during CSLB’s summer California Blitz were 11 repeat offenders, four sex offenders, four suspects with active arrest warrants, four suspects on probation, two former CSLB licensees, and a woman who received widespread media attention last year as a so-called “Sweetheart Swindler.” Three of the suspects were taken to jail.
“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 CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. “If you knew their backgrounds, you’d never allow them in your home.”
Investigators from CSLB’s Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) partnered with a variety of local law enforcement agencies to conduct the operations on July 15 and 16, 2014, at homes in Apple Valley (San Bernardino County), Artesia (Los Angeles County), Atascadero (San Luis Obispo County), Bakersfield (Kern County), Corona (Riverside County), Los Banos (Merced County), Rocklin (Placer County), and South Lake Tahoe (El Dorado County).
SWIFT investigators posed as homeowners seeking bids for home improvements such as painting, electrical, decking, landscaping, flooring, drywall, fencing, concrete, and tree removal work. Of the 97 individuals arrested, 94 now may face misdemeanor charges for contracting without a license (Business and Professions Code section 7028). The penalty for a conviction is up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $5,000.
One of those caught in Rocklin is Samantha Pham, of Elk Grove, who is on probation after pleading guilty to various felonies last year, including theft from an elder and an allegation of aggravated white collar crime. Pham was convicted of swindling an older man out of a luxury car, $200,000, and his Bay Area home. Her sentence includes three years of supervised probation. She was arrested for contracting without a license through a local business she runs, called Bella’s Kitchen & 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. At the South Lake Tahoe sting, two repeat offenders (for unlicensed contracting) were caught, including one who was cited just three months ago.
Eighty-two suspects also may be charged with illegal advertising (Business and Professions Code section 7027.1). 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 (Business and Professions Code section 7159.5). 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 and/or up to a $5,000 fine.
Two of the phony contractors also were issued Stop Orders (Business and Professions Code section 7127). 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. Failure to comply with a Stop Order can result in misdemeanor charges and penalties, including 60 days in jail and/or up to $10,000 in fines.
Blitz totals may increase as some suspects are expected to provide their bids to undercover investigators via email or fax at a later date. All of those caught this week were identified through illegal ads they posted on craigslist.org.