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The promise of a large landscape project attracted six alleged unlicensed contractors to a Salinas undercover sting operation conducted on January 30, 2014, by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) with assistance from Monterey County District Attorney’s Office investigators.

After giving bids that exceeded the legal $500 limit for unlicensed contracting, suspects were cited for illegal contracting and other charges and ordered to appear in Monterey County Superior Court.

CSLB’s Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) held the operation at a single-family home with a large, empty backyard where investigators requested bids for various landscaping projects. The highest bid received during the sting was $15,000 for new sod and related projects. Suspected unlicensed landscaping operators were found advertising on online bulletin boards, including

“Professional landscapers are not like gardeners who usually don’t need a contractor license for maintenance or small, low-cost projects,” CSLB Registrar Steve Sands said. “You always should check CSLB’s website to see if the landscaper bidding on your job has an active contractor license that is in good standing.”

All suspects were cited on misdemeanor charges for contracting without a license (Business and Professions Code section 7028). In California, all home improvement jobs valued at $500 or more (combined labor and material costs) must be conducted by a company or person with a CSLB-issued license. First-conviction penalties for contracting without a license include up to six months in jail and/or up to $5,000 in fines. Penalties escalate with successive violations.

The six also were cited on a misdemeanor charge of illegal advertising (Business and Professions Code section 7027.1). State law requires contractors to place their license number in all print, broadcast, and online advertisements. Those without a license can advertise for jobs valued at less than $500, but the ad must state that they are not a licensed contractor.

Three phony contractors also were cited for requesting an excessive down payment (Business and Professions Code section 7159.5). The legal limit for down payments is 10 percent or $1,000, whichever is less. Often unlicensed contractors fail to obtain workers’ compensation insurance for their workers.

Suspects are scheduled for arraignment at 8:15 a.m. on March 13, 2014, in Monterey County Superior Court, 230 Church Street, Salinas