LUTZ — The men advertised their services as licensed contractors on sites such as Craigslist. They responded to a home in Quail Hollow Village to offer bids on installing a hot water heater.
They walked into a sting.
The Pasco County Sheriff's Office handed out 10 citations this week during an undercover operation to snare unlicensed contractors. Now those men have dates in misdemeanor court, thanks to Operation "In Hot Water."
Detectives teamed up with the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which has made a crackdown on unlicensed contractors one of its top priorities. Work by unlicensed individuals can put residents at risk of personal or financial harm, authorities said, and it creates unfair competition for contractors who are playing by the rules.
"It's a quality-of-life issue," Sheriff Chris Nocco said.
State officials identified possible unlicensed contractors through advertisements. Deputies from Nocco's economic crimes unit contacted those contractors to seek bids on a hot water heater project. Hidden cameras captured the exchanges between the men and the undercover officers.
The 10 men who received misdemeanor citations for contracting without a license are David Anthony Jacobs, 48; David B. Bromagen, 55; Robert Joe Raffeo, 50; Gene Smith, 48; Charles Erwin Haettich, 49; Ken Hilgenberg, 50; Michael J. Celli, 56; James Vincent Sabella, 67; Scott Joseph Kiernan, 38; and Jason L. Bailey, 40.
Hilgenberg was also cited for possession of marijuana because deputies said they found the drug in his vehicle.
In addition to the citations, the men received cease-and-desist warnings from the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. If they are found to be operating again without a license, authorities say, the men could face an automatic $2,500 fine.