The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office arrested four people on multiple charges during Operation Recover, an undercover initiative to protect citizens from unlicensed contractors.
After the devastating property damage caused by Hurricane Ian, the sheriff’s office planned an investigative effort to identify and arrest individuals engaging in the unlawful practice of contracting without a license and related crimes. When contractors conduct work without appropriate licensing, homeowners can be held liable and face financial and physical risk.
Since 2012, the sheriff’s office has assigned detectives to investigate claims against people who engage in contracting work without proper licenses, permits, or certification.
A first offense usually results in a civil citation by code enforcement, but subsequent violations lead to misdemeanor or felony criminal charges. At the time of the operation, the State of Florida was under a declared State of Emergency, enhancing violations from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony.
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The sheriff’s office coordinated efforts with the Sarasota County Building Department, Florida Department of Financial Services, and Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR).
Detectives then contacted individuals to request home repair services that require a license. Upon arrival at a Sarasota County residence, the DBPR database was checked to determine if the individuals were licensed contractors and had the required worker’s compensation coverage or exemption to perform the proposed work.
During the two-day operation, four people were arrested, resulting in 15 total felony charges and three misdemeanor charges. One defendant, James Taylor, Jr., of 3100 Hawthorne St. Unit 278, Sarasota, provided undercover personnel with an estimate to replace the screen enclosure and roofing on the lanai for $3,000.
This is fourth time detectives are aware of Taylor offering unlicensed contractual services. Based on reports filed earlier this year, Taylor offered services in November 2021 and twice in February 2022, to three separate victims. At the time of his arrest, Taylor was charged with three counts of Unlicensed Contracting and three counts of Workers Compensation Fraud. Additional charges are pending.
Three others were also arrested during the two-day operation including:
- Theodore Gavales, DOB 04/06/67, of Sarasota, charged with Unlicensed Contracting During a State of Emergency, Unregistered Electrical Contracting During a State of Emergency, and Workers Compensation Fraud.
- Kenton Feydt, DOB 01/17/61, of Venice, charged with Unlicensed Contracting During a State of Emergency, Unregistered Electrical Contracting During a State of Emergency, and Workers Compensation Fraud.
- Vitali Petrov, DOB 08/08/74, of North Port, is charged with Unlicensed Contracting During a State of Emergency, Impersonating a Contractor During a State of Emergency, Workers Compensation Fraud, and Probation Violation.
All four also receive a cease-and-desist order from the State of Florida.
“As a consumer, seeking licensed contractors is critical when having work done on homes and businesses,” commented Sheriff Kurt A. Hoffman. “Consumers will limit potential physical and financial risks by abiding by these rules and verifying that those they employ are legitimate business owners operating within the laws of Florida. Working with verified contractors is particularly crucial right now, in the aftermath of a natural disaster. We have to do our best to look out for one another, especially newcomers to Florida and our senior citizens.”
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According to Sarasota County Building Official Steve Bell, unlicensed contractors may not be aware of local and state laws that determine building codes and standards, and can be hazardous to the health, safety and welfare of you, your family, and your property.
“An unlicensed contractor may cost you more in the long run. If hiring workers without worker’s compensation insurance, you could be held liable for injuries that occur on your property, not be covered under your homeowner’s policy, and be responsible for thousands of dollars of medical bills. Before you conduct business, ask to see the contractor’s license number and watch out for red flags including any asks for a financial commitment up front, or for you, the homeowner, to apply for a permit. Call 3-1-1 to verify contractors or to report unlicensed work,” added Bell.
Florida law establishes rules and guidelines for obtaining professional licensure, and the people who have met these requirements are held to professional standards. Consumers can verify licenses with the DBPR online at www.myfloridalicense.com, by calling 850.487.1395, or downloading the free DBPR Mobile app through iTunes or the Google Play store.