Pinellas Sheriff's Office taking over construction fraud cases

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Starting Monday, and for the next six months, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office will be taking over construction fraud cases for the county.

Since 1973, Pinellas County has deferred homeowners scammed out of money paid for roof repairs, landscaping, or home painting to the county's Construction Licensing Board to investigate construction fraud.

Complaints about cases going unanswered or unresolved were building.

“There is a lot that wasn’t being followed up on, largely because they didn’t have the staff to do it,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

While the board could issue fines to scamming or unlicensed contractors, it had no power to enforce the law or make offenders pay. Often times, people would turn to deputies for help, but they were incorrectly told their issues were civil matters, not criminal.

“There are times where the deputies and the officers are not familiar with what is a niche area and a unique area of the law,” explained Gualtieri. 

He said training is now underway for the three deputies, a sergeant, and a lieutenant who will make up the construction fraud investigative unit. After the six-month trial period for the new program, he said the sheriff’s office will look into having patrol deputies receive the same training.

Construction fraud has become a common problem across the county, with some homeowners, like Pinellas County resident Jackie Lujan, losing thousands of dollars to contractors who never finished, or poorly completed, home repairs.

"Once I asked for my money back, that was it, I didn't hear from him again,” said Lujan, who paid more than $6,000 in deposits to contract Brian Hursey to build her a brick-paver patio. She said once Hursey got her money, he never came back to do the work.

Hursey was arrested for grand theft. He is being investigated for at least three other cases.

“Some of these people are really unscrupulous. Some of these people are out there not to do the work, but they’re out there to rip people off,” said Gualtieri.

He said one of his goals is to target unlicensed contractors in particular.

“They better get their license, they better follow the accepted industry standards and what the license requires, and if not, there’s going to be consequences for it,” said Gualtieri.

Contracting without a license is a misdemeanor on the first offense. It is a felony the second time. The sheriff’s office is also making it easier for people to submit a fraud complaint.

In the app store on mobile devices, residents can search “Pinellas County,” and download the county's “See Click Fix” app.

The app allows residents to submit their location and a description of their construction fraud complaint.