The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has arrested 15 unlicensed contractors as a result of Operation "Bring Down the House," a three-week-long investigation by the Sheriff's Office Construction Fraud Unit.
The unit originally had 91 suspected unlicensed contractors. Deputies contacted their final 20 from websites like Craig's List, Yelp, Facebook and Porch.
Charges are pending for an additional five suspects.
The majority of the suspects arrested attempted to make their services more enticing by offering to complete the work without the required building permits. Construction is a heavily regulated industry in Florida. HCSO says unlicensed contractors can be appealing to consumers but at a big risk to homeowners including costly repairs, code violations, and other liabilities.
Lorraine Coppola knows exactly what it feels like.
"We were betrayed and taken advantage of," she said.
Coppola hired what she thought was a legitimate contractor to build a patio screen. But after numerous excuses she realized he'd taken her $2,900 and left. Cops later caught him in Alabama.
Of the 15 arrested William Moore and Donald Tucker (Rent a Husband/ Rent a Handyman) have been busted in prior HCSO stings. Tucker was charged with felony tampering with evidence after he was caught on camera ripping up a paper as he was getting handcuffed.
Paul Gordon (813 Handyman) has been charged with a felony. HCSO says he has eight previous charges of unlicensed contracting. We checked his arrests records and found out some days he would be arrested, bond out the next day and within three months he'd be back in jail.
We asked Sheriff Chad Chronister what he's doing to keep repeat offenders off the streets but he insists they aren't the norm.
“The stings that we’ve been doing it’s a very low percentage. I think a lot of them learn. They are looking for a quick buck. And realize how they’ve been taking advantage of a homeowner and we normally don’t see them again," he said.
He also points to the fact they have two full-time detectives working their Construction Fraud Unit. Plus, the sheriff says, one you get caught twice doing this it's upgraded to a felony.