MANATEE — Nine people have been arrested after a two-day undercover operation conducted by six law enforcement and regulatory agencies along with the State Attorney’s Office targeting unlicensed contractors.
“Operation Unhandyman” sought unlicensed contractors working without required worker’s compensation insurance or insurance exemptions.
The Florida Department of Financial Services Fraud Division ran the operation with help 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, Homes Beach Police Department, Bradenton Police Department and the State Attorney’s Office White Collar Crime Division in Manatee County.
Arrested suspects face either a felony charge for operating without workers’ compensation insurance or a first-degree misdemeanor for operating without a contractor’s license.
“Fortunately, all the arrests were made without incident,” a Florida Department of Financial Services Fraud Division official said. “This operation was conducted to protect the citizens of Manatee County.”
The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office wanted to send a message contractor fraud will not be tolerated, according to spokesman Dave Bristow.
“You have to do this to protect the consumer. If not there are all sorts of consequences,” Bristow said. “The license protects the consumer. You are not protected otherwise.” This is a problem in Manatee County so agencies are cracking down.
“It’s out there, a lot of it,” Bristow said. “This sort of thing happens everywhere.”
Investigators with DIF and the Department of Business of Professional Regulation used Craigslist, newspaper ads and other forms of advertising to locate people who advertised construction services. All were checked for licenses for construction work and if they had workers’ compensation insurance, an exception or if they had a lapsed policy.
Suspected unlicensed contractors were called to a home in Bradenton by undercover law officers to offer a quote on construction such as plumbing, electrical work or roofing. Appointments were set Wednesday or Thursday. Background checks were also conducted on every suspect.
The exchanges were handled by detectives from DIF and MCSO. Conversations were recorded. Once detectives secured a quote from an unlicensed suspect, an arrest was made.
The DIF conducts similar operations throughout the state every couple of months in a different county, however, a multi-agency operation targeting unlicensed contractors and those operating without workers’ compensation insurance has never been conducted in Manatee County, officials said. The State Attorney’s Office White Collar Crime Division participated to show the community its commitment to provide law enforcement with support needed to investigate and prosecute these crimes, according to Assistant State Attorney Lisa Chittaro. “It was a joint effort,” a DIF official said. “Everybody working together made this as successful as it was.”