John Simms of Cooper City, Florida and over 30 others were arrested on Wednesday and Thursday of this week after they allegedly agreed to perform carpeting and masonry working despite not having the proper licenses. The defendants have all been charged with unlicensed contracting; some were also hit with civil and traffic citations. Those arrested were booked at Broward County Jail. 14 have reportedly since been released, presumably on undisclosed bail bond, and assigned court dates. It is not clear whether any of the defendants has retained a private criminal defense attorney.
According to reports, the arrests were a result of an undercover operation in which two Broward County deputies posed as a couple who had just purchased a home. Pretending they were looking for home improvement services, the undercover deputies lured unlicensed contractors to the property and showed them around the home as backup deputies stood by, ready to make arrests.
The undercover deputies would ask the contractors what improvements they thought could be made. When the contractors agreed to do work, they were immediately arrested for unlicensed contracting. It was not immediately clear how deputies were able to discern who was licensed and who was not.
Authorities say that they have conducted 12 similar operations in the past three years in order to fend off unlicensed contractors. Second-time offenders were reportedly hit with third-degree felony charges, while first time offenders faced less serious misdemeanor charges.
Police say that they were forced to enforce the law in this way after offenders failed to yield. “We’ve brought these individuals here because they have a history of noncompliance or citation, in many cases an extensive history,” explained one deputy. “That’s why we’ve isolated them as a problem to the consumer as well as the industry.” He explained that the majority of those who were caught in the sting had previous criminal records, and that unlicensed contractors posed a threat to homeowners who were unaware of the workers’ pasts. This is especially risky, as contractors often work on homes near children.
“The latest trend that we’ve noticed is that about 60 percent of the respondents to our operations have extensive criminal histories that include felonies. Everything from sexual abuse to aggravated battery. We’ve even had a murderer show up at one of our things,” said the officer.
Unlicensed contractors also pose a safety risk in the quality of the work that they do. An unlicensed contractor’s work does not have to meet the same safety standards and regulations as that of licensed contractors. The can lead to homeowner injury if a home modification turns out to be unsafe.
Stopping illegal contactors from working under the table has reportedly been quite a hassle for Southern Florida officials, especially considering economic hardship. “How am I supposed to provide for my family with all the restrictions?” John Simms, 38, commented after his arrest in the sting, saying that he has four children. “You tell that to my kids when I don’t have the money to come home.” Defendants claim that stringent requirements for acquiring contracting licenses, as well as the fees involved, have stopped them from complying with regulations and pursing the proper licensing.