Unlicensed contractors busted in Sarasota

- They show up at your door step, dressed for the part.

"All of these people that come look like construction people. They have their blue jeans on and maybe even a tie," said Sheriff Tom Knight.

Sarasota Sheriff Tom Knight warns homeowners to think twice before letting them inside.

"I feel strongly that they are not coming to provide service that they are coming to make victims out of the homeowner," said Sheriff Knight.

The Sheriff just arrested nine men as part of "Operation Freelancer III." It targeted "unlicensed contractors," people like Eric Larson, who advertised as a "handy man" on Craigslist.

The sheriff said hiring anyone without a license carries a financial risk. "If you have shabby work done your insurance carrier is not going to cover you," he said.

It is also a safety risk. Many of the nine arrested are convicted felons, like 72-year-old Charles Duff who robbed a bank in Bradenton 10 years ago with a fake bomb.

The sheriff said it is easy to avoid hiring the wrong people. "It is very easy to find out who is licensed and who is unlicensed. There is many avenues people can do to vet these individuals coming to the houses. Just taking a phone call or making a phone call is not safe," he said.

Time after time Sheriff Knight said the men continue to go back to what they do. This was Eric Larson's second arrest as an unlicensed contractor. "We have never done a sting yet where we haven't had prolific offenders, our people who committed crimes of violence in the past," he said.

He said being smart is the best way to keep your home and yourself safe.

"You need to have credibility coming into your house. You need to know who is coming into your house," said Sheriff Knight.

Florida law sets specific rules and guidelines for obtaining professional licensure, and the people who have met these requirements are held to professional standards. Consumers can verify licenses with the DBPR online at www.myfloridalicense.com, by calling 850-487-1395, or downloading the free DBPR Mobile app through iTunes or the Google Play store.

To check a Sarasota County license, call the Customer Service and Permit Center at 861-6678 or 861-3029. To report someone you suspect is acting as an unlicensed contractor or performing work without a permit, call 861-5000. For more information visit www.scgov.net/DevelopmentServices/Pages/ContractorLicensing.aspx.


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