Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – Florida officials announced the arrest of a dozen unlicensed contractors during a successful sting operation on Tuesday.
According to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, 12 contractors were charged with 12 felonies and 12 misdemeanors when they were apprehended during an investigation called “Operation Freelancer V.” Authorities said they contacted businesses offering home repair services that required a license. When the contractors arrived at the residence where the officers were located, the contractors’ licenses and registrations were checked, as well as their workers’ compensation coverage.
Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Lt. Jonathan Varley said the sting was the result of concerns for homeowner safety.
“Typically, if an employee (of an unlicensed contractor) is injured on the job, they go after the home owner,” Varley said in an interview with WorkersCompensation.com. “Ultimately, if say, someone is working on the home and is electrocuted, then it’s the home owner’s responsibility.”
The sting comes out of a response to complaints from residents about unlicensed contractors who come through and do shoddy work as part of hurricane rebuilding efforts, or as part of the ever-present expansion in the area, he said.
Working with the Sarasota County Building Department, the Florida Department of Financial Services Division of Insurance Fraud, and the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation , the sheriff’s office was able to identify those who were authorized to work as contractors in Florida.
“Maintenance operations like these should be a good reminder for consumers to always seek licensed contractors to perform work on their homes or businesses,” Sheriff Tom Knight said in a news release. “Consumers are exposing themselves to financial and physical risk by allowing these people to enter their home, unlicensed, and in some cases, with criminal histories. Let this be a warning to criminals who come into our community and illegally solicit services, that their behavior will not be tolerated.”
According to authorities, the individuals arrested have a total of 37 convictions for prior felony and misdemeanor charges, including one whose prior charges include domestic battery, resisting arrest and scheming to defraud.
“The Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association (MSBIA) continues to applaud the efforts of Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight in the aggressive pursuit of unlicensed and unpermitted activity in Sarasota County,” said MSBIA CEO Jon Mast, in a statement. “The actions of the sheriff’s office help to protect the health, safety and welfare of the community from unscrupulous handymen impersonating legitimate licensed contractors. By defending unsuspecting homeowners in this way proves the sheriff is focused on protecting the citizens of Sarasota County from being robbed of their money, shoddy work and peace of mind.”
In an interview with WorkersCompensation.com, Knight said that arrests like this level the playing field for honest contractors who do the right thing and protect their customers and their employees. In other cities around the state, builders associations are working with state regulators and law enforcement to combat unlicensed contractors coming in to areas and doing “shoddy work” that may skirt local and federal legislation.
In 2017, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office arrested nine contractors during a similar sting operation. The office said it has detectives assigned specifically to investigate complaints about unlicensed contractors. “Operation Freelancer,” as part of that, has been ongoing annually since 2012, and seeks to crack down on those contracting work without proper licenses, permits or certification.