They often masqueraded as contractors licensed to do work ranging from pool installation to electrical wiring. Some even built entire houses. On Wednesday, appropriately enough, the State Attorney's Office gave each of them a Halloween treat for their tricks _ in the form of a summons.
Fifteen contractors operating in Hernando County and one operating in Citrus County were charged with operating without a state license. They could face fines of up to $1,000 and jail sentences of up to one year for the misdemeanor offense; some could face further action by the county's Construction Licensing Board.
The citations came after a two-month investigation by the State Attorney's Office and the Hernando County Development Department _ one of several such investigations to come, according to Development Department officials.
"We probably haven't even scratched the surface," said Grant Tolbert, manager of the Development Department and the county's building official. "We pulled out this many in only 60 days."
Investigators in "Operation Weed Pull" did spot-checks at construction sites, sent questionnaires to homeowners and followed up on homeowner complaints during the probe.
They found some contractors licensed in one area allegedly doing other types of work illegally, and other contractors working with no license at all.
Three properly licensed contractors allegedly were using money received for some jobs to pay bills incurred on others. They were charged with misuse of money received for real property improvements, also a misdemeanor.
"In a lot of these types of cases, usually the only way they come to attention is that somebody has gone in there and just mangled the job," said Assistant State Attorney Jim McCune, who filed the charges Wednesday morning.
County building officials have done similar investigations in the past, but contractors previously found to be operating without a license were disciplined only by the county's Code Enforcement Board. The board usually issued cease-and-desist orders against the builders, but could make no criminal charges.
Officials of the Hernando Builders Association applauded the crackdown on unlicensed contractors, saying that it was long overdue.
"They've got an unfair advantage, because when they're unlicensed, most of the time they don't have worker's compensation insurance and other things like the rest of us, which is very expensive," said Philip Dobson, vice president of the builders association.
"Also, because they are not being regulated, sometimes you have them doing a job, and the next day when you call for service they are nowhere to be found," Dobson said.
Charged were: Brian Dale Matchette, doing business as Solar Energy Concepts; Ken Svoboda, doing business as Fine Finished Carpentry; Daniel Tobin, doing business as Fathom Pools Inc.; Richard Gaudio and Roger Tennant, both doing business as R
R Carpentry or R
R Quality Construction; Thomas Wester, doing business as Wester Construction; Joe Guntor, doing business as J
D Remodeling; and John A. Rorabacher, doing business as Consumers Development Corp.
Also charged were, Philip Biley, Florino Roscillo, Joseph E. Ducharme, William Vonada, Richard A. Butcher and Edward Shade.
Additionally, Rorabacher was charged with misuse of money received for real property improvement and perjury in a non-official proceeding.
Clyde R. Rowland, doing business as American Dream Real Estate, and Randy M. Gulkin, doing business as Gulf Homes in Inverness, each were charged with misuse of monies received for real property improvements.