13 unlicensed contractors allegedly preying on victims of Wine Country fires charged

The California State Contractors License Board and the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office have been busy running stings on unlicensed contractors who want to prey on victims of the Wine County fires.

With almost all of the lots cleared away now, illegal contractors are trolling for victims desperate to get their rebuilding efforts under way.    

The State Contractors License Board looked on Craigslist for ads offering contractor services, but ads that did not provide certain required information, such as their contractor's license number or license numbers that had expired or had been revoked. 

Last Saturday, undercover agents, posing as fire survivors, met them at the job site. There the bogus contractors offered bids for framing, electrical and plumbing services.

"We caught a total of 13 people," said Rick Lopes of the State Contractors Licensing Board.
Bids for simply framing the 10 by 20 foot room ranged from very low $850 to a whopping $13,000. Plumbing bids for the small space ranged from $1500 to $4500. 

"So these are significant bids well over the $500 limit where you need to have a license," said Lopes.

All will face charges for illegal advertising, but those that gave bids face very serious charges of illegally contracting in a declared disaster area. 

"The penalty is stiffer now because we are under a disaster declaration so that it is a felony. It’s punishable wish a term of imprisonment of three years," said Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch. Add to that $10,000 fines, ten times the non-disaster fine.

It's a call to residents to be vigilant. "It's really disappointing because, overall, I've seen the good in people and how people have really pulled together in the most amazing ways. And, I'm always a little surprised and taken aback there's still people trying to take advantage of the situation," said community volunteer Jennifer Petruska.     

Contractors must put their license number in all ads, on all vehicles and on business cards, contracts, other business documents and carry their state issued plastic pocket card so you can check their status online with the Board.

“The stings are also a warning to scammers. Don't do what they did or we'll come after you," said Ravitch.