Illegal contractors caught in the act
“Am I going to jail today?” asks Kurt Kimm, an unlicensed contractor from Placerville on Wednesday, sitting on a stool with his hands cuffed behind his back inside a house within the Angora fire burn area.
When police officers respond in the affirmative, he shakes his head and replies, “Wow.”
“I’ve never been to jail. I’ve never even gotten in trouble,” Kimm continues in disbelief.
Red-and-white signs scattered throughout the Angora fire zone warn consumers and contractors alike about the consequences of working without the proper license. Yet five felony arrests for unlicensed contracting have already been netted as part of an ongoing sting by California and El Dorado County officials.
“Enforcement actions will be ongoing throughout the rebuilding process,” Doug Ropel, an investigator with the California Statewide Investigative Fraud Team, said Wednesday.
Investigators posing as homeowners whose houses were destroyed during the Angora fire invited suspected contractors to bid on debris removal and various reconstruction projects as part of the operations conducted on the Fourth of July.
Operating without a contractor’s license for work totaling more than $500 is typically a misdemeanor in California, but becomes a felony in disaster zones.
“We want homeowners in the fire area to know that unlicensed and unscrupulous operators may try to make them a victim a second time,” said Steve Sands, Contractors State License Board registrar, in a press statement on Thursday. “We also want the unlicensed operators to know that we will be aggressive in keeping you out of the disaster area.”
Unlicensed contractors can cause a wide range of problems, from doing a lousy job to stealing deposits. They may even leave property owners vulnerable to personal injury lawsuits from the employees of unlicensed contractors injured during reconstruction.
And it’s not just the little guys. Belfor, an international contracting agency, was issued a $750 administrative citation due to improper registration with the state.
“We want to make sure everyone’s playing on the same field,” Richard Jones, El Dorado County deputy district attorney, said Wednesday.