Call Christina exclusive: Miami-Dade police undercover investigation into unlicensed contractors nets 12
Part 1: Operation leads to 12 arrests over 2 days
MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – The Call Christina team documents a Miami-Dade police economic crimes bureau detail involving unlicensed contractors.
"People that are claiming that they are licensed, claiming that they are qualified when in fact they are not. People we know we have had issues with in the past and they are going to be some people here who we already have cases with," Sgt. Leo Fuentes said. "A lot of people are getting defrauded."
The law enforcement operation led to 12 arrests over two days.
Two undercover detectives posed as homeowners at a Miami Gardens home in need of repair.
Investigators moved in to arrest the suspects at the moment the contractors, who arrived to bid on the repair work, gave quotes for jobs records show they were not licensed to perform.
The contractors offered services ranging from roofing and paving, to fencing and air conditioning.
Local 10 News investigative reporter Christina Vazquez was given exclusive access during the two-day operation.
Local 10 News captured the moment law-enforcement went in for the takedown. The majority of those arrested now face a misdemeanor charge of contracting without a license.
READ: Arrest reports
WEB EXTRA: Contracting without a license is a crime
"It's Contractor Fraud:"
"Some of the people we are calling in are people that we have active cases on and we have probable cause for arrest," Fuentes said.
All of the unlicensed contractors on the list were found to be advertising as a contractor throughout Miami-Dade County by staff.
"The list of names, that's maybe a 6-month process. Unlicensed contractors throughout Miami-Dade County that were previously advertising, and we've seen them out in the streets, and we took pictures of their vehicles and their tag numbers. So we identified them before we came here to see if they are licensed or not," Daniel Vuelta, contractor investigation section supervisor for the Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources, said. "If it is an unlicensed contractor than the case is handled criminally."
"A lot of these guys are going to be general handy man. Citizens of (Miami) Dade County have had issues with them in the past," Fuentes said. "It is a contractor fraud."
Miami-Dade Police, Miami Gardens Police and the Contractor Licensing Enforcement Section of the Miami-Dade County Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources were involved in the operation, which had been months in the making.
Police told Local 10 News that many of the unlicensed contractors who were arrested were known offenders to detectives with the Miami-Dade Police Economic Crimes Bureau, like 46-year-old Jose Alvarez.
Before responding to a call for repairs by the undercover detectives posing as homeowners, records showed that Alvarez was on the radar for taking a $325 deposit in July 2014 for a job that he never started.
According to his arrest form, the victim "attempted to contact the defendant numerous times, with negative results." Investigators stated that Alvarez "misrepresented himself as a licensed contractor during both incidents."
Alvarez was charged with a misdemeanor for contracting without a license and a third-degree felony for grand theft.
Attempts to reach Alvarez for comment after the operation were unsuccessful.
Juan Carlos Diaz, 47, of Bayate Repairs, had told the undercover detectives who were posing as homeowners that he has worked from Hialeah "all the way up to Canada."
He also stated he could do "everything."
"A lot of different things, all of which require specialized training and licensing that are required through the county," Fuentes said.
Police said a records check showed neither he nor the company he worked for were licensed to perform the job.
Diaz was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor for contracting without a license.
Over the phone Diaz told Vazquez that he now plans to seek the proper licensing.
Another person netted in the operation, Henry Avile Jimenez, also told Local 10 News that he is interested in making sure proper licensing and training is in place moving forward.
"I am currently in contractor's school," he said over the phone.
Local 10 News has attempted to reach every person arrested for comment. If and when they respond to the request, Local 10 News will add their statements to Local10.com.
COMING UP ON CALL CHRISTINA:
PART 2: SOUTH FLORIDA ENERGY SAVERS
PART 3: CONSUMER PROTECTION TIPS
One of the 12 unlicensed contractors, John Paulisin, 62, of South Florida Energy Savers, was recently featured in a Call Christina investigation, which had aired just one day before he was busted by police on Aug. 27.
The Call Christina investigation found that Paulisin had contracted with a Cutler Bay couple to install solar panels even though he didn't have the required state license.
Miami-Dade County has also been investigating him following a series of complaints.
After being busted by the undercover detectives last week, Paulisin was charged with two counts misdemeanor for contracting without a license.
Coming up on Wednesday, Vazquez speaks to Paulisin right after he was arrested by police. On Thursday, Vazquez shows you the consumer protection tips she learned during the two-day detail.
"To do the testing, do the training, do the licensing, that's really all it takes for them to be legitimate," Fuentes said. "To have their licenses so they can do these jobs legitimately."
Below is a list of the 12 contractors busted during the operation.
- Henry Avile Jimenez, 43 of "Henry's Refrigation"
- Abe Lavy, 74, of "Castillo Fencing"
- Roberto Suarez, 50, identified on the arrest form as a "roofer"
- Alexis Villalba, 20, of "Lae Pavers"
- Jose Alvarez, 46, of "Castillo Fencing"
- Raymond Rodriguez, 43, of "AC Tech"
- Teobaldo Torres, 52, of "Services and Repair Company"
- John Paulisin, 62, of "South Florida Energy Savers"
- Marsy M. Sierra, 27, of "Sierra's Air"
- Jorge Cardoza, 48, of "J. and V. Pavers"
- Enrique Crespo, 55, of "Enrique Crespo AC Company"
- Juan Carlos Diaz, 47, of "Bayate Repairs"
Click here to verify a license with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
Click here to file a complaint with the Miami-Dade County Contractor Licensing Enforcement Section.
You can also call the department at 786-315-2561.
Sgt. Fuentes said in general, the concern about unlicensed contractors is that, "for some of these people the problem is that they don't complete the work or they do shoddy work and they leave the homeowners with an unsafe structure. Or they defrauded them by insinuating or letting them know that they had licensing that they didn't have."
He said the focus is on protecting the homeowner. "They are spending a great deal of money on repairing their houses, making additions of their house," Fuentes said. "Sometimes they are not getting their work completed. In a lot of incidences, people are going to have to rip down everything that was done and have it done all over again. The job is costing them twice as much."
"What we want to do is make the homeowner whole," Vuelta said.
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