Unlicensed contractors face felony charges in Hillsborough’s post-Irma sting

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister announces arrests in a sting operation that targeted unlicensed contractors. [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister announces arrests in a sting operation that targeted unlicensed contractors. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published November 7 2017
Updated November 7 2017

Two sting operations targeting unlicensed contractors in Hillsborough County netted eight felony arrests and charges against 73 other people.

Contracting without a license is normally a misdemeanor, but the felony charges arose from the timing of the offenses, authorities said: Florida was under a state of emergency in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

"This tells us that there are too many unlicensed contractors operating in Hillsborough County," Sheriff Chad Chronister said at a news conference Tuesday.

Detectives advertised a home in need of renovations and received hundreds of calls, the Sheriff’s Office said. The word went out through sources used by homeowners to find handyman services, the Sheriff’s Office said, including Angie’s List, HomeAdviser, Facebook and Craig’s List.

Detectives arranged undercover followup meetings with more than 100 people, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

In reality, the home advertised was beyond repair, but those arrested submitted bids on the work anyway, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Operation Rebuild ran from June to August. The Sheriff’s Office partnered with the State Attorney’s Office, Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Florida Department of Financial Services and the Hillsborough County Building Department.

Detectives followed up with Operation Swift Wind, targeting unlicensed contractors doing business during the state of emergency Gov. Rick Scott announced Sept. 4 in response to Irma.

Over three days in late October, they contacted 10 potential unlicensed contractors and made five arrests on felony charges.

The news conference Tuesday comes on the heels of recent operations against unlicensed contractors by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, which led to the arrests of 20 men on felony and misdemeanor charges.

Here are the individuals arrested in Hillsborough County on felony charges of contracting without a license during a state of emergency: Alvaro Rojas, 28; Richard Hanke, 57; Dennis Hollingsworth, 22; Gino Michaels, 27; Angelo Thomas, 21; and Heath McCarthy, 41.

McCarthy also was charged with contracting without a license subsequent offense and workers’ compensation fraud.

Others arrested on felony charges in the operations were Anna E. Johnson, 38, who faces grand theft, contracting without a license, and workers’ compensation fraud counts; and Joseph Zink, 52, who faces charges including violation of parole on a kidnapping charge.

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