Jay P. Estes, a resident of Palm Coast’s R Section and a contractor, showed up at 11 Claridge Court South at about 10:45 on June 8. The “homeowner” wanted to remodel the bathroom, including some plumbing work. Estes’ estimate for the work: $2,900. He went back to the house on Wednesday to collect a deposit.
Instead, he was arrested and booked at the Flagler County jail on a misdemeanor charge of contracting without a license. He was one of five contractors arrested or given a notice to appear Wednesday, in the culmination of a two-county sting operation against unlicensed contractors in Flagler and Volusia counties. The homeowner had actually been an undercover detective with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office.
Unlicensed contracting is a recurring problem in Flagler, with the elderly or the unaware routinely targeted, and particularly so in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, when roofers, electricians and other contractors fanned out across the region to reap repair windfalls. The sheriff himself was targeted through one such attempted scam.
The Sheriff’s Office dubbed the Flagler portion of the sting “Operation Wrong Number,” because it was partly inspired by a phone call Sheriff Rick Staly’s wife, Debbie, received at their house not long after he was elected, with a contractor saying he’d be in the area, and proposing to give estimates on certain scopes of roof work for hurricane damage. When Debbie Staly asked the contractor if he was licensed and insured, he hung up—the telltale sign that a contractor is working without a license or insurance, which is illegal, potentially dangerous and costly to homeowners, who have no recourse when work is badly done, or when faced with liability issues should injuries result from work performed.
“I was going to do this anyways because I thought about it during the campaign after I was selected,” Staly said, “because you get people that are unlicensed contractors that come in and commit fraud against seniors or homeowners that need repairs.”
The Sheriff’s Office teamed up with the state Department of Business and Professional Regulations and Palm Coast government, both of which provided names that had been reported to them as unlicensed contractors. The Sheriff’s Office got a vacant house, recently purchased and being remodeled, through the Flagler Home Builders Association where it set up the sting.
“The ultimate goal is, go get a license. You’re welcome to do work in Flagler, but do it legally.”
“A lot of these contractors move between counties, and so jointly we worked with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, and they ran a same type of sting operation,” Staly said. He was holding a joint press conference with Volusia Sheriff Milke Chitwood in Daytona Beach this afternoon.
In Flagler, the operation looked at 18 contractors. Thirteen were scheduled for estimates. Ten showed up to give the estimate. Five returned on Wednesday to collect their deposit. Charges are being filed on the five others who didn’t show back up, and “strongly-worded” letters are going to additional contractors believed to be working without a license, but not caught through the sting.
“The whole key is we want you to get licensed, we want you to do it legally,” Staly said, “get the insurance, get licensed, that protects our homeowners. We’re starting hurricane season, God forbid we have another hurricane, but if we do we don’t want unscrupulous contractors coming in, so this is basically sending a message, it’s not going to be tolerated in Flagler, it’s not going to be tolerated in Volusia.”
Also arrested were Thomas J. Smith, 43, of Harbor Road in Port Orange (his arrest affidavit is identical to that of Estes, which suggests an error in the drafting of the affidavit, though he was also charged with contracting for electrical work without a license); Jonas R. Rich, 35, of Cleveland Avenue in Palatka. He’d provided a $16,620 estimate to fix the dock at the same house, and was charged with contracting for construction without a license; and Cynthia Haggerty, 45, of Imperial Drive in Daytona Beach, who had provided a $3,750 estimate for electrical and construction work. A fifth contractor, Desiderio Carlos Carreiro, 38, of Redius Place in Palm Coast, was given a notice to appear and was not booked at the county jail.
Contractor Jay Estes Provides His Estimate in “Operation Wrong Number”
“Some of these people have multiple charges, like for example there’s one lady who, when she was arrested, she had been charged in the past,” Staly said, referring to Haggery. “She had like, 10 others estimates she had given for other people. Each one of those is a crime.”
Haggerty told authorities she didn’t think she needed to be licensed to do the work she was planning to do. Staly was at the house for about 90 minutes, and was part of the arrest of Haggerty, with whom he spoke.
The fifth contractor was given a notice to appear rather than arrested because he had brought his young son, 7 or 8 years old, with him. “We didn’t want to put dad in handcuffs in front of his son,” Staly said. “That’s the hard part about these things because in this particular case, I was there for that arrest, and it was probably dad trying to probably put a roof over his kids’ heads, and food, but, you have to be licensed. He was very remorseful, said I just want to get my licensing and get those things fixed. It’s the same thing as an arrest. He just didn’t physically go to the jail.”
Staly said licensing is in place for a reason: if an electrician did poor work, someone could be electrocuted, a house could burn down.
Estes, based on footage from an undercover video detectives shot, tells the “homeowner” that he’s been working on houses in Palm Coast since 1996. “So I know the good ones,” he says, referring to contractors who show up. “Everybody is busy, but then they’re taking so much work, they’re not finishing things.”
“Gotcha,” the “homeowner” says.
“Anyway, this is what I do all the time, by the way, and I personally do the work, I don’t sub anything out, my reputation around town is impeccable, and tons of people can talk to [it] about me.”
The charge for doing work without a license is a first-degree misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of 364 days in jail, though most of those arrested on such charges usually don’t face jail time. They may have to pay fines and serve probation, if convicted.
While this is all misdemeanors and we have other serious crimes, we will do periodic undercover investigations,” Staly said. “The ultimate goal is, go get a license. You’re welcome to do work in Flagler, but do it legally.” The sting, he added, provides additional attention to a recurring problem, and aims to better inform consumers on what to watch out for and how to protect themselves.
The first step is to request from any contractor to produce clear proof of licensing and insurance, and to verify that proof at the Department of Business and Professional Regulations, which is easily done through the state agency’s website, here. The department provides ample information about unlicensed activity here. And it makes it easy to file a complaint against contractors here. Residents can also report illegal activity by email, [email protected], or by calling the Unlicensed Activity Hotline at 1‐866‐532‐1440.
Alternately, If anyone has questions about whether a contractor is licensed or whether they need building permits before doing work on their home or business, contact the Palm Coast Building Department at 386.986-3780.
Rick Belhumeur says
‘The charge for doing work without a license is a first-degree misdemeanor” ??
I thought it was a felony (State law) That’s what the WARNING signs say!
Good job! Glad to hear this is being done. Thank you!
Some people who are not licensed to better work than those who are!! It is a shame that people are arrested for working when they could be robbing instead….just saying. References are something to consider looking into when you have someone do work for you. How about doing something about the real crime going on in our city!!!!!!
As a retired businessperson whose family operated legitimate contracting businesses in Flagler and Volusia counties for more than fifty years, I can’t tell you how grateful I am to see law enforcement in both counties take this action which, by the way, is the first time I recall ever even seeing it done. Not only is it a huge problem for homeowners and consumers for all the reasons mentioned in the article, but it is also places legitimate businesses at a significant financial disadvantage because they continue to pay all the additional costs that it takes to operate legitimately, which gives the unlicensed contractors an unfair competitive advantage. Kudos and high praises to both Sheriff Staly and Sheriff Chitwood. I hope they will continue this law enforcement that we have not seen in the past, even after reporting it. And I pray that the legal system and the courts support and validate the sheriff’s enforcement actions by prosecuting the charges and imposing maximum penalties upon these scofflaws. The deterrent effect of enforcement will surely help level the playing field for the legitimate business. Keep up the good work Sheriffs Staly and Chitwood!!
I think it is rediculous to actually be arresting people for this. Seriously? Let’s talk about the contractors with a license that do terrible work. Just because they have to have a license means nothing. They are no better than the unlicensed ones. I think Florida needs to do away with the licenses altogether. Give me a break Flagler!!
What warning sign. ?
I’m a little confused. The guy in the video clearly says he’s not a licensed contractor but has a friend who is a licensed electrician who would do the electrical work. What exactly did he do wrong?
To anonymous at 4;22 PM: they are robbing. They’re robbing from the licensed contractors who pay to operate legitimately, besides sometimes doing so directly from their immediate victims.
Rick Belhumeur says
Sign at A1a and Rt 100(and others) says “WARNING UNLICENSED CONTRACTING IS A FELONY IN FLORIDA Florida Statute 489.127(2)(c)
. I would never hire an unlicensed vendor due to the liability exposure alone.
That being said, I haven’t hired any local contractors in the last 12 years due to bad experiences
with No-Shows, Shoddy, Incomplete work, and the inability to finish a job in reasonable time.
The Locals seem to have the attitude that they are the only game in town. While that might be true, I did my due diligence and found contractors out of the county with impeccable work standards and practices, and have never looked back.
Bubba Gina says
People trying to make a buck, home owners trying to save a buck and the county what’s a cut. Welfare sounds better everyday.
It’s not just about the license people! It’s also about the insurance, the homeowner is going to pay the bill if that unlicensed and uninsured contractor gets hurt or screws something up. If they’re not licensed they’re not pulling a permit either and if the city finds out about work being done without a permit, theirs going to be even more trouble for the homeowner.
Benjamin Bartlett says
Get estimates from 3 or more different licensed contractors and you’ll
see why Anonymous (4:22 pm) may have a point.
My AC broke down in the middle of summer back in 2012, and I
had 3 local outfits come to the house to troubleshoot.
*One well-known firm said that my system was “a goner” and that
I needed a new “main unit.” Cost: $6500
*Another offered to drop in a used unit for $3000 for a “pull-out” as
I perspired profusely and complained about the price.
*An unlicenced A/C tech told me that a capacitor was shot.
And it was, as it was swollen and leaking. The capacitor stores energy
for the compressor as it kicks on.
Cost? $120.00 parts and labor. My A/C was perfect thereafter.
I learned a good lesson in the process.
If a person (without a licence) with verifiable references wants to work,
let him work.
I had a similar experience with my roof that had developed a leak.
For some, having a license means a license to steal as well.
There are honest people around, but it’s not usually the first firm
you call from the phonebook or adverts.
Advice: shop around, and don’t get desperate. When my central A/C
went down, I slept in my den, where I popped in a cheap Home Despot
(sic) window unit while I shopped around. The A/C unit was cheap
and it sat in the garage until I moved. Cheap insurance!
The guy who was honest about the capacitor made a nice tip that day.
He left with $200.00 extra in his pocket.
That guy Estes has been sued. Google his name and see how many deposits he never gave back.
Good work Staly. Keep the licensed law abiding contractors in business.
Concerned Citizen says
Unlicensed contracting is supposed to be a felony under state law. Or so the sign at 100 and A1A on Flagler Beach says.
Save us the boohoo on having a kid with you. If you go to do illegal things and have your kid then you still need to go to jail. Just like everyone else had to. Might even teach the kid a lesson.
I think the license issue is just another tax for Government. Much like Obama Care. If you can do the work and get it inspected. Where is the harm or foul. YES they should carry Insurance. BUT that’s all!!
Vincent Neri says
The unlicensed contractors that have been arrested are being told if you want to work in Flagler County then get a license. I guess then that someone can get a contractors license with an arrest record?
If he is not insured and falls off a ladder and breaks his neck, you could be sued for damages and lose your home. The laws are there for. a reason.
djwhite077 says: June 16, 2017 at 5:36 pm
To anonymous at 4;22 PM: they are robbing. They’re robbing from the licensed contractors who pay to operate legitimately, besides sometimes doing so directly from their immediate victims.
Not true, I have only use licensed contractors and not one of them actually did everything they promised in a timely fashion. And, if I went to the city or the county, none of them would do anything, they would just say sue them. So exactly who is robbing who?
To get my contractor’s license, I had to invest a large amount of time and money in books, schooling, tests, applications, insurance, workman’s comp, incorporation and finally, the license itself. Not to mention equipment and advertising. So when I hear about some unlicensed schmuck down the road dabbling in my line of expertise, it hardly seems fair.
One who says
Now that you conducted a sting like this, maybe now you can do the same with people practicing Doctor and Dental without a permit or licenses and other stuff out of their homes here and getting away without paying taxes too. I hear there is a home based Dr & Dental practice going on around from my home, and different cars are there all the time and people waiting in the drivers seat to take the worked on people home. Starting to get scary if I do say so.
Sheriffs wife gets a call that hangs up and we get a full fledged sting operation, boy oh boy, I see what going on with that and it’s laughable, sheriff’s priorities are so outta wack. Hey did they bust any kids selling lemonade?
Loser after loser going down lolol
Workers should be required to get insurance but not a license. It is absurd. If someone is wualified to do work and the work gets inspections then that should be sufficient. Just because some shmuck has a license means nothing. Stop harrassing people for nonsense and go get the real criminals in this county. I can’t believe the Sheriff’s have nothing better to do than waste time with this. Florida voters should be able to vote on whether they think people should be required to get a stupid license or not. Let’s get a vote from the people on how many workers with licenses did crappy work.
As a licensed business owner in Flagler County for the past 27+ yrs. I think this is great that the sheriff’s dept is starting to stop these unlicensed people from working. If I am required BY LAW to operate my business then so should everyone else. I have worked hard to get a 5 star rating in the county as well as the with the BBB. It’s not fair to the businesses that run their business by following the laws and get licenses to have to compete with unlicensed people that don’t follow the laws. These people probable work out of their homes and request payment for their work in cash or check made out to their name so they don’t have to pay taxes on the money they collect. They are also probably collecting government assistance in some way shape or form. By doing business illegally they are breaking the LAW and should be stopped.
For those of you that hire unlicensed contractors, you have no one to blame but yourself when the job is done unprofessionally of not finished at all, and your out your money.
With this being said though. I think that not only should anyone doing business in Flagler County (or anywhere for that matter) should have to past a test for the business they want to practice in.
Coming down on the working man just trying to make a living. If he does the work himself he isn’t contracting. He is just working for the homeowner. Rich folks get richer. All about the money folks.
Florida LICENSE CONTRACTOR are the real crooks and Florida Statutes gives them all the rights and protections.
If you the OWNER hire a LICENSE CONTRACTOR to do work on your property, YOU are responsible to ensure that all Subcontractors and Suppliers are paid in full; furthermore YOU are responsible to ensure all the work is done to Code and corrected prior to closing out the Permit. The PERMIT and the NOTICE OF COMMENCEMENT is filed by and is in the OWNERS name, not the LICENSE CONTRACTOR. If the Subs and/or Suppliers are not paid, Florida Statutes provides them the right to place a Lien on your property, the OWNER is left double paying and the LICENSE CONTRACTOR walks away with no liability. Yet, the same Statutes provides that if you do not pay the LICENSE CONTRACTOR, even if you know that they have not paid Subs and/or Suppliers, nor received a Release of Lien, they can (and will) Lien your property.
The State and local Municipalities will tell you that you are protected by the State if you hire a LICENSE CONTRACTOR, which is semi true, there is provision through the Florida Homeowners Construction Recovery Fund, however the process is long & cumbersome, the board consist of LICENSE CONTRACTOR, and if you do succeed good luck collecting, the funds have been dried up for years.
About the only protection the OWNER may have, if a worker gets injured on your property, he would be covered by the LICENSE CONTRACTOR’s Workman Comp insurance, assuming he has it AND payments are current, if not, the OWNER is responsible, hope you have enough coverage on your Home Owners insurance policy. BTW, the OWNER is responsible to check if the LICENSE CONTRACTOR has a valid Workman Comp policy in effect and valid during the entire time he is working on your property.
Ironically, the State and Local Municipalities that encourage the use of LICENSE CONTRACTOR, have no role and/or responsibility in the process.
There’s a reason why LICENSE CONTRACTOR are LLC’s, once they rip-off enough people, they dissolve the current LLC and create a new one. Do a search by individual names instead of Company name, see how many defunct LLCs one individual is associate with.
Remember the Golden Rule of construction, it will cost twice as much and take twice as long.
Benjamin Bartlett says
Insanity makes some very sane observations and suggestions.
You’d be loco to ignore him (or her).
Is the Sheriff’s Office, state Department of Business and Professional Regulations and Palm Coast government going to go after all the unlicensed and unregulated work that is being done by Property Management companies? Or are they going to ignore the issue?
Property Management companies are and have been circumventing licensing requirements. Property Management companies are not required nor obligated to hire License Contractors. They have so call Handymen’s on staff, usually a family member or a close friend making repairs, to include electrical and plumbing work with no requirement for training, insurance, proving their skills, or obtaining permits. This is common practice and has been ignored by the authorities.
If you are a renter or an absentee resident who has hired a Property Management company to maintain your property, the work being done is most likely being done by an untrained, unlicensed, uninsured, person with no background check.
Thank you, Sheriff.
Sheriff’s Office, state Department of Business and Professional Regulations and Palm Coast government, while you’re at it, why don’t you go after the biggest rip-off racket in the industry? The production builder, you know, the ones that advertise we’ll build on your lot or ours, the ones with those nice Model homes on display.
So you buy your dream lot, you go visit one of these builders, select your floorplan and you’re ready to go. Those nice salesperson give you an awesome sales pitch “we will build your dream home at no risk to you, the way we do business makes it very simple for you, we do all the work”. They proceed on telling you all the benefits, you don’t have to get a Construction loan, we do all the permitting, pay all the fees, and in 3-4 month we hand you the keys and you’re ready to move in. So you fall for the pitch, you sign a contract and then you’re hit with your first surprise, you have to Quick Claim your Deed to them, you just gave up your dream lot in lieu of putting up a deposit, but you’re not to worried, you have a signed contract.
Fast forward six month, you get a call that you’re dream home is ready, even thou you were told it would only take 3-4 month, never the less, your excited, finally, you walk in and you are hit with another surprise, the flooring you specified is not what is installed, you question the salesperson (builder never shows up at these) and your politely informed that the product you asked for was not available so it was substituted with a “like” product, you’re not happy, you protest, then it happens, the nice salesperson pulls out the contract and points to the dreaded fine print, “builder reserves the right to substitute materials when deem necessary” and notification and approval is not required (nor enforceable anyways, remember you are not the Owner any more), well your fuming, but it’s okay, flooring can be change later, so you put that behind you, you want to see your dream kitchen, you walk in and you see beautiful white cabinets with beautiful crown molding (which you did not ask for), it’s not the molding that catches your attention, it’s the fact that you specified Cherry finished cabinets, and the nice salesperson proceeds on telling you how the Sub screwed up and install the wrong cabinets, but he was kind enough to throw in the nice crown molding at no cost to make it up to you, but all is not loss, you got the exact counter tops you wanted, including the color, which doesn’t even remotely go well with white cabinets. And it goes on, even to the point that you realize that your bedrooms in the back are a lot smaller than the Model home you walked through, when you question that, they kindly tell you that they had to modify the plans to fit on your (oops, there lot), so now your shorted square footage, no, they don’t credit you back for the lost square footage, matter of fact, they charged you for the redesign (fine print in contract).
You’re really ticked off by now, you tell the salesperson you’re going to seek legal counsel, and with a kind smile, they pull out the contract, and they point to the “binding Arbitration” provision, wow that’s fair, the Builder picks the Arbitration Company of their choice and you pay the fees for the service.
Now you come to the realization that you are totally screwed, you put up your lot, you have noting at this point, you either take it or walk away, losing thousands of dollars, but that kind salesperson, who is always smiling, gives you an option, we can start over and make it right, it gets your attention, you eagerly listen, they tell you that they have a lot similar to the one you had, it’s even better, and they will build your dream home right this time. Your all for it, what’s another six month, you want your dream home, so you agree, until they hit you up with the extra cost, the Lot they have is $10k more than your old lot, furthermore in the last six month they had a substantial price increase on the home you want, $20k, so if you want you dream home it’s going to cost you $30k more. Now comes the kick in the balls, since you don’t have a Lot to put up has a deposit, they want a large cash deposit.
Now, you do what everyone else does, roll, and reluctantly except what they are giving you.
But, everything is not doom and gloom, this builder provides a generous two year Warranty, they will brag that the industry standard is only one year, what they don’t tell you is that the Florida Statutes provides a for a seven year warranty period, unless it is waived by Contract.
Sorry folks, I’m on a roll, someone got to expose this crooked industry, and all these crooks are LICENSE.
OMG, that happen to us about 10 years ago, we didn’t have a lot, so we had to put up a substantial deposit. It took them 8 month to build. When we did our walk through we were shock, they used the wrong color bricks, wrong color for the roof, everything was wrong, the salesman told us they must of use the wrong specs, got them crossed with other house. He offered a new house on a different lot, same thing as you, he stated it would 12 thousand more because of the cost of construction went up. We decided to walk away, we got lucky and was able to recover all our deposit, and the only reason we did, my husband is in the Navy and fortunately there are special provisions and laws that protect them, makes me wonder why the government would not protect everyone from these predators. That builder is not in PC anymore, someone said they moved on to the panhandle.
Wow! This is so Crazy. How many times does one have to be arrested to Learn. Yes, Google a name n check out everything’. I’m So Tired of getting “RIPPED OFF”.