Investigators used a house at 7538 Redcoat Ave in New Port Richey for their sting operation. The house was ideal as it needs extensive remodeling. Investigators advertised asking for bids to complete work on the house. They then checked on the contractors who applied and discovered that the majority of them were unlicensed and were also operating without workers’ compensation insurance. The sting operation ran from September 11-15 and resulting in the 20 arrests.
It is a misdemeanor to work without a license. Not having workers’ compensation insurance, however, is a felony. The men, if convicted, face up to five years in prison.
Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco explained why they were going after unlicensed contractors. He agreed that, at first, it might seem odd to have a sting operation to arrest people who are trying to earn a living.
Nocco pointed to one of the arrested, Robert Bruce Trottman, 54, as an example, He is on a lifetime felony probation. “What if I tell you that there was someone who came to work on your house, and this individual had previously knocked on another woman’s door, pushed her down and punched her, held a knife to her and raped her?” he asked. “Would you say, ‘Oh yeah, I want that person to work on my house’?”
Nocco also stressed that contractors operating without licenses may not do the work they have been asked to do, it may be of poor quality, or it may be unsafe. Homeowner’s insurance may not cover work completed by unlicensed contractors.
“It puts you and your family at risk,” said Assistant County Administrator Don Rosenthal. He stressed that, when hiring a contractor, you should not look at price alone. He recommends double checking to see that a contractor has both workers’ compensation insurance and is fully licensed. “If it sounds too good to be true—the deal in question—it probably is.”
In similar lawsuits across the country, contractors and businesses operating without adequate workers’ compensation insurance have argued that there is a great deal of pressure on them to earn enough money to make payroll and keep their businesses operating. This is especially true when the costs of workers’ compensation insurance are going up.
Defending his client in a workers’ compensation fraud case earlier this year in Ohio, Attorney Anthony Koukoutas explained that, “There’s that pressure that’s on you, the pressure to find a way.” This pressure may lead individuals and companies to feel they have to make impossible choices to keep their businesses afloat.
Pasco County Commissioner Mike Wells, however, points out the flipside of this. He said that contractors operating without licenses and without paying workers’ compensation insurance negatively affect those who are compliant with the law. “It’s not fair to them,” he said. “It puts them at a disadvantage.”
Law enforcement has increasingly been using sting operations to catch contractors without a license or workers’ compensation insurance. Earlier in the summer, 29 individuals were arrested in a similar operation in neighboring Pinellas County.
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