Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Carmel on the Case: Contract Sting
With so many homes still suffering hurricane damage, unlicensed contractors have become a major problem in south Florida. But in Miami-Dade County, authorities are turning the tables. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is On The Case - with the exclusive.
WSVN--Police Officer: "Miami-Dade Police! Put your hands behind your back."
Police Officer: "Put your hands behind your back. Don't play."
Try to act as a contractor without a license in Miami-Dade County - and this is what could happen to you.
Police Officer: "Policia! Contractor: No problema."
These men all thought they were doing business with a south-Dade couple looking for some repair work around the house.
And plumbers - all eager to sign up the pair.
But what they didn't know is these are Miami-Dade police officers and the house is a set up.
Police Officer: "D-O-B zero zero seven - five six."
Once the unlicensed contractors offered to do work, they came inside to be paid but got busted instead.
Det. David Falcon: "They're great talkers and that's how they scam people. Unfortunately people trust them."
Detective David Falcon, on the left, posed as the husband.
He says an unsuspecting homeowner could easily be taken in.
Det. David Falcon: "You get the feeling of what it would be like to be a real victim."
Aura Mantilla is just such a victim.
Her son, Jose, says his parents are out more than 80 thousand dollars to an unlicensed contractor who made their home unlivable.
Jose Mantilla: "He started breaking down the walls and then he asked, he started asking for more money."
In addition to stings like these, authorities are also stopping work vehicles on the road to check for licenses.
So when a contractor drove up in a produce truck - police were not suprised.
Sgt. Marco Pascual: "He was not in produce and he was doing electrical work so and air conditioner work. So he's doing that as cover so that way when he's traveling the streets, he generally won't get stopped."
Another trick - claiming to work for a licensed company when you do not.
Police Officer: "Do you have anything sharp on you. Contractor: No."
This man claimed to work for an electrical company and even had on a company shirt.
Police Officer: "Don't call anybody right now. Byron Parris: Am I under arrest? Police Officer: Not yet."
But he was arrested after the owner of the electrical company told police he is a "former" employee.
And as it turns out, Byron Parris has another contracting without a license charge pending. Police say he is accused of taking a deposit and doing no work.
The Miami-Dade police department and the county's department of building code compliance conducted the sting after receiving a huge number of complaints.
Herminio Gonzalez: "These people are professionals in trying to snooker the homeowner. They advertise in different places sometimes - they even advertise with somebody else's license."
One man caught in the sting even admitted he had taken the test to become a licensed contractor.
Police Officers: "Did he pass the exam? Paso examo? Contractor: No."
This man was laughing - but the charges he and the others now face are no joke.
Penalties for contracting without a license are up to 364 days in jail and a five thousand dollar fine.
Repeat offenders face up to five years and ten thousand dollars.
Contractor: "I got a pacemaker OK. Police Officer: You can walk right over here sir, relax."
In all, 22 people were arrested in this sting.
Carmel Cafiero: "And with hurricane season breathing down our necks - some of us may feel downright desperate to get repairs done. But hire unlicensed contractors and and you could end up with more trouble - from no permits - to no insurance - to no work - some just take you money and run. Carmel Cafiero 7 News."
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
If you have a story for Carmel:
Call her in Dade at 305-627-CLUE
Or in Broward at 954-921-CLUE