• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

Statewide sting nabs unlicensed contractors

March 25, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
A massive crackdown on unlicensed contractors in California led to dozens of arrests across the state Thursday.Many people look at hiring an unlicensed contractor as an easy way to save money. But state officials say not only is it illegal, it's dangerous and costly.

Investigators rounded up 161 unlicensed contractors in a statewide sting.

Eighty-year-old Clara Buice's driveway may lead to her garage, but it's been an express lane to aggravation.

"It's a terrible-looking mess," said Buice.

It's less than a year old, but it's cracked. Decorative stones are falling off and its color is uneven and splotchy.

The contractor who did the work was supposed to meet with Buice to talk about fixing the problems.

"He never showed," said Buice. "I never saw him again." Buice paid $8,400 for the job.

Buice is just one of countless homeowners victimized by unlicensed contractors, dozens of whom were busted by state investigators.

"This week we conducted what was the largest undercover sting operation in the Contractors Board's 81-year history," said Rick Lopes, director of public affairs, Contractors State License Board.

The state calls it the "Springtime California Blitz." Over two days, undercover officers in the cities of Orange, Chino Hills and Calabasas, as well as eight other spots in the state, arrested 161 unlicensed contractors.

"A lot of times people who are unlicensed are so because they realize they could never pass the criminal background check to get their license," said Lopes. "So these unlicensed people are really scary. These are people you don't want to have in your house."

State officials say they're also making California's economic problems even worse by not paying taxes and siphoning off income from businesses that do.

"Unlicensed activity really contributes to about $160 billion in the underground economy, and that's just unacceptable," said Brian Stiger, director, Department of Consumer Affairs.

State officials say most of those busted in the sting are first-time offenders and will most likely just face misdemeanor fines. But those who have been previously busted for license violations will spend time behind bars.

"It's at least a mandatory 90 days in jail, plus a fine of up to $5,000," said Lopes.

But that's little help for Clara Buice. Even though her contractor showed her his license, it turned out to be someone else's.

Replacing her driveway will now cost her another $8,000 -- a big dent in her savings, but an even bigger hit to her heart.

"You know, you just can't trust anybody anymore, I guess," said Buice.

Unlicensed contractors carry no workers compensation insurance, so if a worker gets hurt, he could very easily go after the homeowner.