SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - A San Francisco-based fire alarm company is still open for business, according to multiple building owners, amid a cease-and-desist order and a criminal investigation into its owner.
In May, 2 Investigates exposed Tom Jue, owner of Tom Jue & Company, as the man sued in a wrongful death lawsuit after working on a fire alarm system that failed to go off at a Mission District building. The apartment complex went up in flames in 2015 killing tenant Mauricio Orellana. Jue settled in the case and admitted in court deposition video to never being a licensed contractor.
According to Jue’s Better Business Bureau site, he’s been working on fire alarms across the Bay Area for 26 years.
After the 2 Investigates report this year, the Contractors State License Board and San Francisco District Attorney Office launched criminal investigations into Jue. The San Francisco Fire Department sent more than 15,000 warning letters to building owners and a cease and desist order to Jue.
“Potentially people could die because of this, so absolutely it’s a concern,” said Rick Lopes, the spokesman for the Contractors State License Board. “We have absolutely zero records with Tom Jue’s name. He doesn’t show up on any application for at least the last 15 years.”
In October, 2 Investigates received the first tip saying Jue was still working on fire alarms but“now under the company name, Chan Electric Work.
Betty Chopoff of Milpitas was another person who had reached out to 2 Investigates after hearing Jue was still working. She said he’s popular in the Chinese community.
“They go by word-of-mouth. They say the guy has a dazzling personality. Talkative, bilingual, knows all about the code,” Chopoff said.
To find out if Jue was indeed ignoring his cease-and-desist order, 2 Investigates tracked down Kam Chan, the owner of Chan Electric Work. His phone number did not work, so upon visiting the business address, 2 Investigates noticed Chan drive by only to notice this news agency and drive around the block two more times.
Chan eventually stopped to talk, saying Jue was indeed using his contractor license to continue to work on fire alarms. Upon being contacted by state regulators, Chan said he agreed to sign a form stating Jue was no longer an employee.
Chan said he is friends with Jue and is saddened by what’s transpired.
“I’ve been working for more than 30 years as a licensed contractor and as somebody who tries to go around and work without a license, that’s too much of a risk,” he said.
After multiple requests for comment, 2 Investigates confronted Jue in front of his San Francisco home in November. It appeared Jue was going on a job. He said it was painting related.
When 2 Investigates asked if he was still working on fire alarms despite the cease and desist order, Jue had no comment.
Before driving away he said, “You know, you guys are after something that I don’t want to comment about. There’s no comment. There’s no story. There’s no issue.”
State regulators are finalizing their criminal investigation into Tom Jue. If they recommend criminal charges, they will then hand their case to the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.
Lopes said if Jue is found guilty, he’s far from the only one in this underground business. He said customers may be able to find cheaper quotes by unlicensed contractors but will pay a different kind of price.
“We’re talking about fire,” he said.
Tips on verifying licenses:
- You can enter a license number of business name here (https://www2.cslb.ca.gov/OnlineServices/CheckLicenseII/checklicense.aspx) to verify if it is active or has any complaints.
- If that worker is an employee working under someone else, ask for verification of employment and identification. This includes pay stubs or payroll records.
- If the quote for the job is much lower than other competitors that may be a red flag.
- If the contractor is unable to provide a contract or documentation, those are additional red flags.
Candice Nguyen is an investigative reporter with KTVU Fox 2. Send story and investigation tips to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.