8 charged in unlicensed contractor sting in Polk County

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Police busted eight men in an undercover sting that focused on unlicensed contractors. Only 8 On Your Side rode along with police as they took these suspects into custody.

Investigators say they advertised their ability to perform wide-ranging plumbing and electrical work without proper licenses or training. All but one had no worker’s compensation coverage to protect their employees in the event of an accident or injury.

During the operation, detectives responded to public advertisements, created by the suspects, requesting that they perform services at a home in Lakeland. The workers were invited to the home by an undercover detective posing as a homeowner in need of home repairs. Once they provided the undercover detective with a proposal for work that would require a contractor’s license in the state of Florida, they were in violation.

According to Lakeland Police Sgt. Gary Gross, several of the men utilized web sites advertising their services and that they were insured. One admitted he was not allowed to do some of the work he agreed to complete. Lettering on one of the suspect’s van stated, “Licensed & Insured” while another handed out business cards stating, “Licensed & Insured”.

“We must be vigilant and continue to crack down on those who are contracting work illegally and working without a license,” said Lakeland Police Chief Larry Giddens. Unlicensed contractors place our citizens at risk and threaten the livelihood of our law-abiding contractors and their employees.

The following seven suspects were arrested between June 16th and 20th and were all charged with engaging in a business as a contractor without a license and failure to secure workers’ compensation insurance coverage: Justin Cortes, 48, of Polk City; Greatlen Bozeman, 44, of Winter Haven; Herbert Vanegas, 54, of Lakeland; Henricus Van Der Linden, 56, of Winter Haven; Stuart Rhodes, 67, of Lakeland; Juan Carlos Diaz, 35, of Lakeland, and Raymond Figueroa-Garcia, 30, of Winter Haven.

Raymond Perdue, age 45, had his worker’s compensation insurance, but did not have a contractor’s license. Charges were filed with the State Attorney’s Office for engaging in a business as a contractor without a license and Perdue was issued a summons to appear in county court.

Agencies involved include: LPD, State Attorney’s Office 10th Judicial Circuit, Florida Department of Financial Services Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Compliance, and the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

To see if a contractor is licensed click here

Watch for the following warning signs, these may indicate the person/company is not certified.

  • You are asked to obtain the permit.
  • A large down payment is required before work begins.
  • No license number on the vehicle, business card, contract, newspaper/flyer or yellow page ad.
  • Contractor displays only an “Occupational License” which is required in addition to Certificate of Competency.
  • Permit is obtained by someone other than the person/company to do the work.
  • You are informed that the job does not require a permit or inspection.
  • Verbal contract only, person is not willing to put all terms in writing.
  • The contractor is only willing to work on weekends or after hours.
  • May request front money (money before work begins).
  • The contractor does not have proof of General Liability or Workman’s Compensation Insurance.

What You Should Know Concerning the Use of an Unlicensed Contractor.

  • According to Florida Statute 455.228, if you hire an unlicensed contractor, the Department of Professional Regulations (D.P.R.) may issue a cease and desist order 2 and also may take you to Circuit Court, which has the authority to impose a civil penalty of up to $5,000 for aiding and assisting unlicensed activity. You could also be liable for court cost.
  • If you pull a permit for an unlicensed contractor, you are held responsible for the work, not the contractor.
  • If you hire an unlicensed contractor, you may actually pay more for the job, than if you hired a licensed contractor. Especially, if the work is done incorrectly or never finished, you may have to pay twice or more for the same job to be corrected or finished.
  • If the unlicensed contractor fails to pay his sub-contractors or suppliers, you may be required to pay them, even though you have already paid the contractor.
  • Plumbing, electrical, and heating and air conditioning work should be done only by contractors and craftsmen certified in those trades and require separate permits.
  • Home improvement contractors must be certified by the State of Florida as either a General, Building, or Residential contractor.
  • Roofing contractors are required to be certified or registered by the State.
  • There is no such thing as a “legal” jack-of-all-trades.
  • An “Occupational License” is not a regulatory license or a certificate of competency, but a tax for the privilege of engaging in or managing a business, profession, or occupation.
  • You may be held liable for injury on your property if the unlicensed contractor has no insurance or Workman’s Compensation.

How Can I Be Sure That I’m Hiring a Reputable Contractor?

 

  • Ask contractors to see a copy of their license and ask for photo ID to make sure that person is indeed the license holder. 
  • Visit myfloridalicense.com and verify the license is still active.
  • Call the insurance company after asking for the contractor’s insurance certificate. Make sure it is enforced.
  • Ask for references and call those references. Make sure they’re not just friends or family members.
  • Ask the person what trade organizations he or she belongs to. Many licensed contractors are affiliated with professional groups.

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