“Operation Hammer Down II” was the result of a partnership between the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), the Sarasota County Building Department, and the Florida Department of Financial Services Division of Insurance Fraud. The first phase of the operation was conducted in April and resulted in six arrests.
A 1950’s ranch-style house in south Sarasota County was selected and an agent posed as the homeowner. A number of contractors were contacted and asked to discuss repairs in the house. The contractors were selected because they all advertised that they completed home repairs projects which require a license to carry out. When the individuals arrived at the house, agents checked the DBPR database to verify that they had the appropriate workers’ compensation insurance, that they were registered as a contractor, and that they were licensed. If they did not check out, they were arrested.
While the database search was being carried out, the agent would discuss possible home repairs with the subject. The police department released hidden-camera footage of the sting operation. One by one, the individuals arrive and are then led out in handcuffs. One individual is shown discussing repairs in the bathroom before being asked to go back into the living room. As officers handcuff him, he asks, “What I done? What I done?”
The operation led to 15 misdemeanor and 21 felony charges. Each of the 17 individuals was charged with workers’ compensation fraud as well as unlicensed contracting. One individual, Oscar Cortes, was also charged with possession of marijuana, while James Tate was additionally charged with possession of a controlled substance.
For the last seven years, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office has actively investigated individuals who carry out contracting without workers’ compensation coverage or having the necessary permits and licenses. While a first-time offender often receives a civil citation, repeated violations result in criminal charges.
Of those arrested in Operation Hammer Down II, James Pusateri Jr. has been arrested once before for a similar crime, while Paul Sorke has been arrested twice for similar crimes in the area.
I have reported on similar operations elsewhere in Florida. Last September, for example, police ran a similar sting operation in Port Richey in Pasco County. This operation led to 20 arrests. Again, the majority of those arrested were unlicensed and had no workers’ compensation insurance coverage.
The arrests come at a time when workers’ compensation premium rates are dropping in the state. Last year, a 13.4 percent reduction in state-set workers’ compensation insurance rates was approved, and a bill recently passed a House panel which would see a 5 percent reduction in premiums paid by employers.
“Consumers are exposing themselves to financial and physical risk by allowing these people to enter their home unlicensed,” said Sheriff Tim Knight, explaining why it was important to crack down on contractors who do not have workers’ compensation insurance coverage or are not licensed. “Not only does this pose a threat to consumers,” he continued, “it also directly affects legitimate business owners doing the right thing and operating within the parameters of the law.”
Florida Workers’ Compensation Fraud Defense Attorney
If you are involved in a worker’s compensation fraud investigation, then you should hire a lawyer. Contact us to set up a free initial consultation and work with one of Florida’s most experienced workers’ compensation fraud defense attorneys.