Unlicensed Contracting Stings in Florida
Unlicensed Contractor stings in Florida are conducted regularly in Sarasota and Manatee counties. Florida considers unlicensed contracting a serious crime. Florida cases from Unlicensed Contracting Stings range from civil citations through Felonies, can result in a prison sentence.
Unlicensed Contracting is generally a Second Degree Misdemeanor. But after one conviction of Unlicensed Contracting, the charge becomes a Third Degree Felony. Not only that, but these charges can result to serious time including one Sarasota man who received 50 months in prison for Unlicensed Contracting!
Cops have learned how to operate Unlicensed Contractor Stings from their tactics on their ‘To Catch a Predator” style Sex Sting Cases. What does unlicensed contracting have to do with a sex sting? Nothing at first look. But law enforcement has used those operations in order to learn how to snare potential targets in the same way, and they have also learned to “stack” charges to net higher sentencing convictions (see Sarasota Man Charged with 30 Counts of Unlicensed Contracting). Surprisingly, Sarasota County Sheriff and Manatee County Sheriff conduct these operations about as regularly as they conduct sex stings (July 3, 2018; July 26, 2018).
The Sting Operation
A procedure similar to that of the Sex stings (see my Sex Sting Cases page), law enforcement generally starts off with a Craigslist post looking for handyman work, a remodel, or some simple repair work that does not require a license (dry wall, tile or flooring work, cabinetry, or other minor home repairs). Handyman work generally does not require a license in Florida.
Unsuspecting handymen will make contact thinking the job is just what it says it is: minor repair. The potential customer (undercover law enforcement) will discuss the job with the handyman. They switch from the Craigslist e-mail to a cell phone. Usually a call or texting. Why? To further ensure they have the same suspect (defeats the “It wasn’t me” defense). The handyman and the chatter discuss a bid and arrange a meeting.
The Meeting is Scheduled
The unsuspecting handyman shows up at the target house to discuss the potential job with the resident (undercover operative). Then law enforcement resorts to some of the same “bait-and-switch” tactics used in the Sex Stings.
Throughout the meeting and the course of the contact, the job changes scope or includes small changes that would require a license. Such as the sheetrock repair will now include moving an electrical outlet a couple of inches; the cabinet job will require hooking up new plumping because of changed cabinets; or a water heater needs to be swapped out. All generally easy work–and perfectly legal for homeowner’s to do on their own–but illegal to do commercially without a license. The hook has already been set, and the handyman is being reeled toward the boat.
The Bid is Offered
The handyman provides a bid, and s/he starts to think they are going to have a decent payday. Not so fast! As soon as the unsuspecting handyman offers to complete the work for money, which requires a license, they have committed the crime of Unlicensed Contracting.
As soon as the offer to do the work for money is made, the crime is complete. That’s right. You don’t have to actually start performing the work in order to be charged with the crime of unlicensed contracting in Florida. Simply offering to do so is enough.
Depending on the handyman’s prior criminal history, the charges range from first degree misdemeanors to third degree felonies. Law enforcement is now starting to include other charges like Failure to Secure Worker’s Compensation Insurance. This charge automatically brings the whole case to the felony level. Law enforcement does that for increase fees and potential cost recovery.
Fines and penalties for these charges are quite expensive. Upon conviction, the defendant is required to pay court costs, costs related to prosecution, and law enforcement costs. Generally, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (“DBPR”) and the county where the crime is committed also jump in for their cut. Sometimes the fines from DBPR and the county exceed thousands of dollars to each!
Why Should You Hire an Experienced Trial Lawyer?
Hiring a lawyer that has actual experience in handling Unlicensed Contracting cases in Florida may be the difference between prison and a more favorable result. I have personally tried these types of cases, both as a prosecutor and a defense lawyer. As a defense attorney, I have drafted and argued motions that have resulted in actual dismissals of all charges against my clients, or reduced the charges from Felonies to Misdemeanors.
I have successfully handled Unlicensed Contracting Cases throughout Sarasota and Manatee Florida. If you have been accused of this type of crime, call me immediately to discuss your case. Let my experience handling these cases from both sides of the aisle assist you in preparing your best defense.