MUGSHOTS: 9 arrested in Sarasota Co. unlicensed contractor sting

Mark Lamoureux of North Port

SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office busted nine unlicensed contractors in an undercover sting called “Operation Freelancer IV.”

Detectives worked with the Sarasota County Building Department, the Florida Department of Financial Services Division of Insurance Fraud and the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) to contact individuals advertising home repair services that require a license to complete.

As they arrived for the supposed work, the DBPR database was checked to determine if they were licensed and registered as a contractor. Detectives also researched whether they had the required workers’ compensation coverage.

The three-day sting resulted in 11 felony charges and seven misdemeanor charges. Those arrested have a total of 40 prior felony and misdemeanor charges as well as eight convictions.

“There are people that would take advantage of that and maybe make them what they think is a good deal and it turns out to be shoddy work, they don’t really have that expertise,” said SCSO Captain John Walsh.

One of the defendants, Timothy Jewell, has several prior arrests for aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer with a weapon and resisting arrest with violence.

Another suspect, Raul Morey-Arenas, has six prior felony charges in both Sarasota and Manatee counties dating back to 2008 for burglary and uttering a forged instrument.

“Maintenance operations like these should be a good reminder for consumers to always seek licensed contractors to perform work on their homes or businesses,” said Sheriff Tom Knight. “Consumers are exposing themselves to financial and physical risk by allowing these people to enter their home, unlicensed, and in some cases, with criminal histories. Let this be a warning to criminals who come into our community and illegally solicit services that their behavior will not be tolerated.”

Tom Jackson is a licensed general contractor with Jackson & Associates. He said homeowners should look much deeper than just the price tag.

“Is somebody gonna be there a year from now or two years from now or three years from now? So, it’s very important that you do your homework,” said Jackson.

Jackson said you should ask the contractor to see a copy of a license and proof of liability insurance.

“Typically, the licensed contractor knows exactly what to do in those regards,” explained Jackson.

Deputies are thankful these crooks were stopped and they hope homeowners learn a lesson.

“Don’t shortcut this process. You may think you’re getting a good deal, but if something happens to you or somebody else and just an accident, you could be responsible for that,” said Captain Walsh.

“The worst case is, we’re very concerned about something could happen to your home, that damages your home beyond repair, then what do you do?” Walsh added.

Since 2012, the sheriff’s office has assigned detectives to investigate claims against people who engage in contracting work without proper licenses, permits or certification.

A first offense usually results in a civil citation by code enforcement, but subsequent violations lead to misdemeanor or felony criminal charges. The defendants also receive a cease and desist order from the State of Florida.

Florida law sets specific rules and guidelines for obtaining professional licensure, and the people who have met these requirements are held to professional standards. Consumers can verify licenses with the DBPR online at http://www.myfloridalicense.com or by calling 850-487-1395.

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