More than a dozen unlicensed contractors face potential criminal charges stemming from what local and state authorities said were attempts to defraud Santa Rosa residents looking to rebuild homes destroyed in October’s wildfires.
In all, 13 unlicensed contractors, all men, were caught up in a sting conducted Jan. 27 at a burned out home in Santa Rosa, where undercover state investigators posed as fire victims looking to rebuild their home, the Contractors State License Board said in a news release Friday.
The 10 suspects who showed up to the site and offered bids were detained by CSLB investigators and released from custody while the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office considers the evidence and decides whether to advance charges, said Rick Lopes, CSLB’s chief of public affairs. The three others cited in the sting did not show up to the house but were accused by authorities of fraudulent advertising.
“I remember saying months ago when there was still debris in this area that I’m standing in now, ‘If you come here, if you violate the law, I’m going to prosecute you,’ and I’ve been true to that word” District Attorney Jill Ravitch said in news conference from the leveled Coffey Park neighborhood. “Not only have we gone after price gougers, but now we’re going after unlicensed contractors.”
The sting started when investigators responded to ads posted on Craigslist offering services for framing, carpentry, electrical work and plumbing specifically for fire victims. Investigators invited workers to the home, where they then bid on jobs, the contractors board said.
For the framing job, the submitted bids ranged from $850 to $13,000; for plumbing, bids ranged from $1,500 to $4,500; and for the electrical work, a bid came in at $2,100, the CSLB said.
Home improvement jobs totaling $500 or more must be completed by a contractor certified by the state. The CSLB has received a number of complaints about other unlicensed contractors working in the burn zones, Lopes said, and is conducting weekly sting operations to prevent that.
“These people are coming in, trying to undercut and underbid the legitimate licensed contractors,” Lopes said. “They’re taking away the work from them, and it’s not a level playing field.”
That makes it difficult for licensed contractors to compete for work, said Keith Woods, CEO of the North Coast Builders Exchange, an association that advocates for licensed contractors in Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake and Napa counties.
“This is a very common, but sad byproduct of a major disaster,” he said. “It attracts the unscrupulous, whether it’s the people that have been stealing metal and rebar and stuff, or people trying to scam homeowners. It’s a problem when there’s something like this.”
Those cited for felony contracting without a license in a disaster zone were identified by authorities as: Edgar Rogelio Menrano Aparicio of Rohnert Park; Adam Daniel Kime of Fairfield; Charles Joseph Messana of Windsor; Gerardo Daniel Contreas Medina of Santa Rosa; Sergey Nosach of Redwood City; Michael Allen Regan of Santa Rosa; Jeffrey Edward Reno of Napa; Kyle Jerry Rexford of Santa Rosa; Robert Dale Wisterman of Santa Rosa; and Dan Ybarra of Santa Rosa. If convicted, each could face up to three years in prison and a $10,000 fine.