CAPE CORAL, Fla. - Unlicensed contractors are big problem in Southwest Florida. If you hire one you could be left footing a big bill if something goes wrong. Our Call for Action team had been working with the city of Cape Coral for months in order to get an inside look at how unlicensed contractors get caught and now we have the exclusive video of how the city is fighting back to keep you safe.
A Cape Coral Licensing Investigator, who asked for his identity to be concealed, gave us a tour of the home being used in the sting.
"We have surveillance cameras set up and we have them come through the door. Whoever spoke to [the contractor] will answer the door as the homeowner," explained the investigator.
For months the city of Cape Coral has planned this sting. Every contractor called to the home is asked to give a quote for work including putting in ceiling fans, converting a bathroom, and fixing a breaker. All of those jobs require a license.
After carefully collecting complaints and ads for work seen on sites like Craigslist and Angie's List, the Cape Coral crew consisting of Cape Code Enforcement, the Cape Police Department, the Lee Sheriff's Office and the State's Department of Business and Professional Regulation, set up appointments to catch the unlicensed contractors, in the act. And it didn't take long.
Our cameras caught three men, all unlicensed, writing quotes for work that needed to be done.
The first man said he's not trying to take advantage of people in our community but, "just trying to do honest work."
The second, when asked why he doesn't have a license said, "I'm not the owner. I just work for them."
While the first two men left quietly with their citation in hand, that was not the case for 78-year-old Bruce Anthony. While waiting for his citation, he turned to our news crew and expressed his frustration.
"So you guys are here to publicize the fact that we've been hung up here?" asked Bruce.
At one point, he turned his cell phone on the undercover officer, threatening to take a picture which would reveal the officer's identity.
A Lee Sheriff's Office deputy, who also asked not to be identified, stepped in to explain the situation to Bruce.
"Look, we're trying to get you out of jail so you don't have to pay bond or anything like that. It's a state statute you violated, OK? So it's a misdemeanor offense. You can go to jail for it," he said.
Our crew was there for just one day during the week-long investigation and saw three unlicensed contractors get citations. In all, 21 people were issued a Cease and Desist Notice for offering or advertising to perform contracting work without a license. Those cited can either pay the fine or request to go before a judge.
It's important to note, if you hire an unlicensed contractor, there is no one to protect you if something goes wrong. If something that the unlicensed contractor installs or fixes in your house causes damage, your insurance company might not pay to have it fixed.
To find out if someone you want to hire is licensed, call your local municipality or go online to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation's website. Click on "verify a license."
Here's the list of everyone given a citation in the sting:
Robert Cicarelli, 37, Ft. Myers;
Thomas M. Moore, 44, Cape Coral;
Keith W. Nichols, 57, North Fort Myers;
Omar Alvarez, 57, Ocala;
William W. Lawry, 63, Cape Coral;
Edwin J. Castro, 43, Cape Coral;
Joseph Merola, 27, Cape Coral;
Troy Nelson, 50, Cape Coral;
Mark Addy, 52, Cape Coral;
Bruce Anthony, 78, Cape Coral;
Michelle Waldron, 33, Cape Coral;
Stacey Ray Abernathy, 53, Cape Coral;
Rick Vontoc, 56, North Fort Myers;
Tommy J. Bivona, 54, North Fort Myers;
Gerald T. Snow, 54, Fort Myers;
Robert Barter, 67, Fort Myers;
Joe Baker, 58, Fort Myers;
Lorn Bovill, 49, Cape Coral;
Samaroo Keshore, 40, Cape Coral;
Marc Miller, 36, Cape Coral; and
Robert Reinert, 55, Fort Myers