ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) - Sheriff Bob Gualtiari delivered a shocking wake-up call to dozens of unlicensed contractors Tuesday morning, promising “a new day, a new era” in Pinellas County – and an end to their “predatory practices.”
The sheriff announced 58 charges against 20 unlicensed contractors and said more arrests are coming as part of “Operation Nailed.”
This is good news to people like 90-year-old Delores Anderson, who says she hired Richard Niger to do some painting, plasterwork, and to rescreen her pool enclosure.
The sheriff says after Anderson paid Niger for the job, “he went back to her and said the check got destroyed in the wash and asked for a second check and then cashed both checks. In essence, he stole over $26,000 from her”.
Gualtiari said Niger is “well-known” to the construction licensing board, which can issue fines, but has no authority to make arrests.
Without the threat of criminal penalties, violators simply skip out on paying the civil fines – or factor them into the cost of doing business as they move from one victim to the next.
It’s been that way for years – allowing Pinellas County to become a haven for unlicensed contractors.
Sheriff Gualtiari says he only became aware of the problem recently when he was asked why his agency wasn’t cracking down on unlicensed contractors.
He said until now, the Licensing Board had never asked him for help and said he assumed “as an independent entity, the Board was conducting these investigations” and holding violators responsible.
Now that the sheriff is on the case, he’s eager to get the problem under control. Since August, the sheriff’s office has launched 220 investigations.
The sheriff says he’s shocked by the magnitude of the problem.
The arrests he announced Tuesday are just “the tip of the iceberg.”
For consumers, knowing who is licensed and who isn’t can be difficult.
The sheriff says fake contractors will even put fake license numbers on their truck doors. His advice to consumers is to verify the contractor is licensed by calling the construction licensing board.
He says deals that sound too good to be true, probably are.