MANATEE -- After an undercover operation this week, officials are warning residents of the dangers of hiring unlicensed contractors and how they can protect themselves.
Operation Unhandyman, targeting unlicensed contractors and those operating without worker's compensation insurance, resulted in nine arrests on Wednesday and Thursday in Bradenton, as the Herald reported. More details were
The Manatee County Building and Permitting Department issues an average of five to 10 citations a month for unlicensed work offenses, according to Manatee County Contracting and Licensing manager Cindy Blake. Many of those cited will face criminal charges.
"This activity displays a blatant disregard for worker safety, and I commend this joint effort," Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said in a statement. "We will continue working to protect the integrity of the construction industry in Florida and make sure these fraudsters can't put more Floridians at risk."
Clifford Hatina, 39; Michael John Kantor, 57; Scott Rodocker, 50; Allen R. Arthur, 52; Walter L. Powe, 53; David Perez, 51; Christopher Myrick, 48, and Paul Scott Ward, 52, were each charged with one felony count of operating without workers' compensation insurance under $20,000 and one misdemeanor count of operating without a contractor's license.
Adam Mark Levine, 44, was charged with one felony count of operating without workers' compensation insurance more than $100,000, one misdemeanor count of operating without a contractor's license and one misdemeanor count of unregulated electrical contractor.
They each face up to six years in prison, if convicted.
Operation Unhandyman was an effort led by the Florida Department of Financial Services Fraud Division with assistance from the Florida Department of Financial Services Division of Workers' Compensation Bureau of Compliance, Department of Business of Professional Regulation, Manatee County Sheriff's Office, Holmes Beach Police Department, Bradenton Police Department and the State Attorney's Office White Collar Crime Division in Manatee County.
"I think the outcome was good, they made several arrests," Bradenton police Capt. William Fowler said. "It's become a big issue with unlicensed contractors working in the city and county as well as across the state."
Residents who use an unlicensed contractor are at risk of faulty work and being injured in their own home or business, among other things, according to Fowler.
Homeowners need to verify that their contractors have worker's compensation insurance and also ask to see their general liability insurance. The homeowner is financially responsible for any uninsured contractors who get hurt while working on their home.
"Copies of worker's compensation insurance and general liability is something any contractor will have in their truck," Blake said.
Consumers are urged by the DBPR verify their contractor's license online at MyFloridaLicense.com or by calling 850-487-1395.
Manatee County residents can also call the Building and Permitting Department at 748-4501, ext. 3800, to determine if their contractor is registered here and if they have any local complaints. They also can get their permit history.
They can also call a hotline to report local unlicensed contractors at 941-749-3084.
Officials also warn that residents should not pay more than 10 percent down or $1,000, whichever is less, until after the work is complete.
"If they receive more than 10 percent they must file permits within 30 days and start work within 90 days of all necessary permits being used," Blake said.
Other tips offered by the DBPR are to always get three bids, check references, get a written contract and never sign a certificate of completion until being satisfied that the work is done.
Safety is also a potential problem when letting someone unlicensed into your home.
Perez's prior arrests in Manatee County include charges of possession of marijuana, disorderly conduct, possession of a controlled substance, domestic battery, dealing in stolen property, battery on an emergency medical provider, driving under the influence fourth offense, driving with a permanently revoked license and child neglect.
Hatina's prior arrests include charges of habitual driving with a suspended license, with a license tag not assigned, vehicle registration expired more than six months and failure to register a vehicle.
Rodocker also has a prior arrest for driving without a valid license.
"Unlicensed activity is against the law and threatens the livelihood of licensed professionals who have demonstrated knowledge of the profession and have met all of the requirements prescribed by law to possess a state of Florida license," DBPR Secretary Ken Lawson said in a statement. "Consumers should be aware of the various risks associated with doing business with unlicensed individuals and should always verify an individual's license through DBPR prior to hiring them."
Jessica De Leon, law enforcement reporter can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.