Five people were arrested following an undercover sting targeting unlicensed contractors in the aftermath of the Angora fire at South Lake Tahoe, officials said.
Licensing board investigators conducted the operation Thursday in cooperation with the California Department of Insurance, and the El Dorado County district attorney's office and sheriff's department.
Two Nevada men and three Californians were arrested on charges
of contracting without a license.
"We want homeowners in the fire area to know that unlicensed and unscrupulous operators may try to make them a victim a second time," said Steve Sands, registrar of the California State License Board.
"We also want the unlicensed operators to know that we will be aggressive in keeping you out of the disaster area."
Investigators posed as people whose homes were destroyed during
last week's fire, that destroyed 254 homes and 75 other structures.
They invited suspected unlicensed contractors to bid on debris removal and various reconstruction projects.
Those arrested were identified as William Tanner, 33, and Troy Meadows, 37, of Gardnerville, Nev.; Chase Rossier, 27, and Steve Killion, 47, of Yuba City, Calif.; and Kurt Kimm, 40, of Placerville, Calif.
Contracting for work of $500 or more in a state or federally declared disaster area without a valid California contractor's license is a felony. Punishment may include a fine of up to $10,000 and up to 16 months in state prison.
The board also issued administrative citations to a licensed contractor who was using an unregistered salesperson to solicit work and a tree trimmer registered with the California Department of Forestry to work on state land but not on private property. Each citation includes a $750 penalty.
Sands said unlicensed operators are part of a multimillion-dollar underground economy that takes jobs from legitimate contractors and tax dollars from schools, roads and law enforcement. Illegal operators rarely have workers compensation or liability insurance. Homeowners have little recourse if something goes wrong with an unlicensed operator, he said.
The board has had investigators in the fire area since June 26, meeting victims and conducting patrols. The board also is placing dozens of signs in the fire area, warning consumers about unlicensed and unscrupulous contractors who might prey on them, and warning operators that they will face felony charges if caught.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)