DUNEDIN — It’s the fifth sting in a year and a half, but the effort seems to be doing little to deter unlicensed contractors.
As Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said: “It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.”
Over the weekend, Gualtieri’s deputies arrested 39 more people accused of doing construction work without a license or insurance.
The three-day undercover sting, called “Operation Punch List,” brings the total to 152 arrests, 331 charges and about $700,000 in unlicensed work across five investigations that began in October 2017. And this one won’t be the last, Gualtieri said during a news conference Monday.
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“We want to see it be harder for us,” the sheriff said, “and it’s no harder today than it was five operations ago.”
His agency started the stings after a Tampa Bay Times investigation found that the independent agency tasked with protecting the public from unlicensed contractors was failing to do so. Instead of working with the Sheriff’s Office to bring cases to criminal court, Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board officials punished violators with civil fines they had no power to enforce.
Gualtieri formed a new unit to handle the cases. The Florida Legislature passed a bill last year that ended the licensing board’s independence. It now operates under county government.
At Monday’s news conference, the sheriff pointed out some of the more extreme stories.
One woman was arrested for the second time during a sting. A pair of men showed up to do roofing work with no ladder and asked detectives if they could basket-toss them onto the roof.
The most bizarre example was a man who advertised himself on Craigslist as the “Topless Handyman.” The ad shows Jason Liggitt, 46, wearing short-shorts and no shirt.
“I can put up your fence, or take down your shed,” the ad reads. “Paint your wall, or trip your door. I can hang your curtains, or lay your floor. I’ll do it topless, but don’t ask for more!”
Liggitt showed up to the sting in an Uber car with no tools, Gualtieri said. Like many of those arrested, he faces charges of misdemeanor unlicensed specialty contracting and felony failure to secure workers’ compensation.
“They’re not just trying to make a living, and even if they were, they should do it the right way and get licensed,” the sheriff said Monday.
“But they’re not trying to just make a living. They’re trying to rip people off.”
Contact Kathryn Varn at [email protected] or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.