New Port Richey — The house at 7538 Redcoat Ave. in Port Richey may have seemed like any other.
But for investigators from Pasco County, it was a trap used to attract contractors who in nearly two dozen cases offered to do work without a license or worker's compensation coverage. That resulted in the arrest of 20 people over a four-day period earlier this month.
"If it sounds too good to be true, the deal in question, it probably is," warned Assistant County Administrator Don Rosenthal at a press conference Wednesday afternoon to announce that 20 contractors were arrested in a sting that ran from Sept. 11 to Sept. 15.
Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco admitted that on the surface, people might wonder why go after unlicensed contractors, who are just trying to earn a living.
"What if 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?" Nocco asked rhetorically. "Would you say, 'oh yeah,' I want that person to work on my house?"
But the incident he described was not hypothetical. Among those arrested was Robert Bruce Trottman, 54, of 5913 Riddle Road in Holiday. Nocco said the man is on lifetime felony probation for committing the crime he described.
Beyond that, county officials warned that unlicensed contractors often do shoddy work or don't do the work they promised. That means not only is the work possibly unsafe, but it likely won't be covered by insurance in case of a fire or some other resulting disaster.
"In either case, it puts you and your family at risk," said Rosenthal, adding that homeowners should not hire someone on price alone.
"If you are not sure, call us at (727) 847-2411," he said.
Nocco pointed out that the sting had a double-whammy for those arrested.
Working without a license is a misdemeanor, he said. But the charge of working without worker's compensation insurance, levied by the Florida Department of Financial Services, is a felony.
"This was a team effort," Nocco said.
Pasco County Commissioner Mike Wells offered another reason the county has put so much effort into stings like this.
Unlicensed contracting "negatively affects" licensed contractors, said Wells. "It is not fair to them. It puts them at a competitive disadvantage."
In addition to a phone call, officials suggested two websites where people can go to check on the status of contractors. Myfloridalicense.com to see if a contractor is licensed and myfloridacfo.com to see if they have worker's compensation insurance.
Contact Howard Altman at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman