A recent sting operation which targeted unlicensed contractors, resulted in fourteen arrests. Along with charges of unlicensed contracting, some of those arrested were also charged with failure to carry workers’ compensation insurance. The sting operation included Lee County Sheriff’s Department officers from the Economic Crimes Unit, agents from the Florida Division of Insurance Fraud, officials from the Florida Contractor Licensing and Code Enforcement Division, officials from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and members of the Lee County Dept. of Community Development. A family home was used in the sting, with undercover agents contacting those advertising as builders on Craigslist or Porch.com. The suspects met with undercover officers, many agreeing to do work which required a Florida contractor’s license and carry valid worker’s compensation insurance. Those arrested were issued civil citations for unlicensed contracting along with a notice to cease and desist offering building services.
Potential Charges and Consequences of Unlicensed Contracting
Should the prosecutor be able to prove the charges against those arrested, a first-time conviction for contracting without a license is considered a misdemeanor, carrying penalties of up to a year in jail and a fine as high as $1,000. Those who have a prior conviction for contracting without a license could be charged with a third-degree felony. If convicted, penalties could include as many as five years in prison, and fines up to $5,000. Depending on the individual circumstances of each case, the builder may have to pay the costs of the investigative sting. For builders charged with contracting without a license (apart from the recent sting), restitution could be ordered in cases where the homeowner alleges substandard work was performed or sub-standard materials were used, either or both of which resulted in loss. If the unlicensed contracting occurred during a period when the Florida governor has issued a state of emergency, even a first time offender could face third-degree felony charges.
Unlicensed Contracting Defenses
There are a number of defenses your attorney may be able to implement on your behalf if you have been charged with unlicensed contracting. Perhaps you truly did not represent yourself to the homeowner as a licensed contractor, and, in fact acted in a very limited scope on the job in question. You may well fall under one of the exemptions provided in the Florida Statutes such as:
-You sold or installed finished products, materials or articles which do not become a permanent fixture of the home (such as awnings).
-The owners of the property acted as their own contractor and provided direct, onsite supervision of all work not performed by a licensed contractor.
-You performed work of a casual, minor or inconsequential nature in which the total contract price for labor and materials is less than $1,000.
-Your construction work consisted of the repair or construction of irrigation or drainage ditches.
There are a total of eighteen exemptions listed under Chapter 489.103; your building activities may well fall under one of those exemptions. The ultimate outcome of your case will depend on your prior criminal history and the amount of money involved. Because the potential penalties for unlicensed contracting are very severe, it is important that you take the charges seriously and speak to a skilled, reputable Florida unlicensed contracting attorney. Our experience will work in your favor, as we are extremely capable of examining the work performed in order to provide evidence casting you in a favorable light. When appropriate, we may attempt to negotiate a period of probation, along with some level of restitution. The benefit of this withholding of adjudication is that your record will not show you received a conviction for unlicensed contracting. Before you consider pleading guilty to the crime of unlicensed contracting, it could be very beneficial for you to speak to a qualified lawyer who will assess your case and clearly explain your options.
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