LOS ANGELES – City Attorney Mike Feuer today detailed his office’s efforts to crack down on unlicensed contractor fraud including the launch of a public awareness campaign and the filing of criminal charges against five individuals. “Schemes perpetrated by unlicensed contractors can have devastating financial consequences for homeowners,” said City Attorney Mike Feuer. “My office will continue to fight back by empowering residents with the information they need to avoid being victimized and aggressively seeking restitution for those who are harmed."
Joined by representatives from the Contractor’s State License Board (CSLB), City Attorney Feuer rolled out a new program advising the public on ways to avoid being scammed by unlicensed contractors. Tips include avoiding contractors that only accept cash, demand an excessive down payment, request the homeowner get building permits as “Owner-Builder,” or cannot be verified with the CSLB.
“The lowest bid is tempting to accept, but if the person is unlicensed, you may find that once the project begins, he or she tries to add on costs,” said CSLB Registrar Cindi Christenson. “Every day unlicensed contractors are victimizing unsuspecting homeowners all over the state. We’re proud of our exceptional partnership with City Attorney Feuer and his office’s efforts to protect consumers and prosecute unlicensed criminals.”
Feuer also warned of new emerging unlicensed contractor scams capitalizing on the drought and up-coming summer heat. The CSLB has uncovered cases in other areas of Southern California that some landscapers advertise that they are experts in removing grass lawns and replacing them with water-efficient landscaping or synthetic turf and don’t deliver as promised. In some cases the work is shoddy and plants that are installed are not drought tolerant. Landscapers that charge more than $500 for a project must have a state contractor’s license. Unlicensed contractors are also enticing homeowners, especially senior citizens, through low priced duct cleaning for air conditioning and heating systems. The low service call prices are to entice people to call and when the contractor shows up at house they often find more that needs to be done, and taking homeowner for thousands of dollars in work that doesn’t need to be done.
In the past 12 months, the City Attorney’s Office has filed 32 cases of unlicensed contractor fraud and is currently collecting restitution on 39 unlicensed contractor cases. In addition, the City Attorney’s Consumer Protection section is currently reviewing 35 case referrals from the CSLB.
This week, City Attorney Feuer filed five criminal cases against unlicensed contractors for charges including unlicensed contacting, using another’s license, grand theft, and charging an excessive down payment:
Richard Shawn Knight, 45, charged with contracting without a license; excessive down payment; excessive payment that exceeds the value of work; and grand theft. Arraignment is scheduled for July 7, 2015.
Brad Lee Tracy, 55, charged with contracting without a license; excessive down payment; excessive payment that exceeds value of work; fraud against an elderly person; and grand theft. Arraignment is scheduled for July 7, 2015.
Richard Eckols, 44, charged with contracting without a license; fraudulent use of a license number; excessive down payment; excessive payment that exceeds value of work; and grand theft. Arraignment is scheduled for July 9, 2015.
Tuan Sy Hung, 40, charged with contracting without a license; diverting funds; excessive payment that exceeds value of work; and grand theft. Arraignment is scheduled for July 21, 2015.
Paul Goldenberg, 75, charged with contracting without a license; excessive down payment; excessive payment that exceeds value of work; and grand theft. Arraignment is scheduled for July 21, 2015.
Feuer also highlighted the recent conviction of Barry Walker, an unlicensed contractor who bilked an elderly woman out of tens of thousands of dollars. The victim in the case paid Walker $84,000 to make home improvements including making it more handicap accessible. Walker allegedly performed sub-standard work and ultimately abandoned the project, costing the victim tens of thousands of dollars to complete and fix the job.
The City Attorney’s Office received the case and successfully secured a conviction against Walker on two counts of contracting without a license on May 29, 2015. Walker was placed on 36 months of probation and ordered to perform 30 days of community labor. Walker must also pay $61,620 in restitution to the victim. A restitution hearing is scheduled for July 17, 2015.