Occupational Licensing

Undercover Cops Hired 118 Handymen, Then Arrested Them All for Not Having Licenses

Undercover sheriff's deputies posing as homeowners hired handymen to paint, install recessed lighting, or do other tasks that require licenses. Then they arrested them.

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The residents of Hillsborough County, Florida, can sleep safely tonight following the arrest of 118 people for performing unlicensed contracting work as part of a Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office sting known as "Operation House Hunters."

The sting, according to Patch, saw sheriff's deputies pose as homeowners seeking handymen on social media to do jobs that required licensure. These unsuspecting handymen would be lured to one of five homes, where undercover deputies filmed them performing or agreeing to perform prohibited tasks like painting or installing recess lighting.

The stings were carried out between March and December of last year. The arrests were announced yesterday.

"These 118 con men and women were posing as contractors & preying on innocent homeowners in Hillsborough County, who were just looking to repair or improve their home," said Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister at a Tuesday press conference. The mug shots of those picked up in the sweeps were displayed behind him on big posters.

The Sheriff's Office also released a compilation video of some of the handymen caught up in the sting operation, including several who had past criminal convictions, or who had been caught previously performing unlicensed contract work.

Only eight of the people arrested as part of Operation House Hunters were repeat offenders, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Department. The other 110 were arrested for first-time offenses. The bulk of those charges were for "unlawful acts in the capacity of a contractor," a misdemeanor offense that can come with a $1,000 fine and a 12-month jail sentence. Repeat violations can result in a felony charge.

That the Sheriff's sting operation netted few master criminals is not surprising to Leslie Sammis, a criminal defense lawyer in Tampa, Florida, who has represented clients caught up in these sting operations in Hillsborough County.

"The real con men that are trying to trick homeowners are usually too experienced to get caught up in one of these types of sting operations. So the stings tend to catch someone that crosses the line in an unsophisticated way," Sammis told me in an email.

Frequently, she says, officers will hire a handyman on the pretext of performing work that doesn't need a license, and then during the course of the job ask them to do something that does, like unhooking a toilet or laying some tiles.

"When the handyman says no, then the undercover detective moves the conversation to something else and then comes back to the question later in a different way," says Sammis. "By the time the handyman gets to the location, they want to make the homeowner happy and end up agreeing to perform work that they didn't intend on doing when they first arrived. The undercover detective[s] are just creating a crime that probably wouldn't occur otherwise."

Using stings to nab unlicensed contractors isn't unique to Hillsborough County. Cops and regulators have conducted similar operations in New York and California.

Occupational licensing, whether it's of contractors or hair braiders, is often much more about protecting incumbent businesses and government licensing revenue than it is about safeguarding the welfare of consumers.

Operation House Hunters is a perfect illustration of this, with cops going to great lengths to manufacture licensing law violations that either wouldn't have happened or wouldn't have produced unsatisfied parties.

The more effort law enforcement spends entrapping handymen, the fewer personnel and resources they have to devote to deterring other, more serious crimes. "These sting operations rake in big money in fines and court costs," Sammis says. "Catching real criminals actually committing a crime is much harder."

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  1. I hope the DA and County officers get very large campaign contributions from the licensed contractors. Job well done.

    1. For enforcing the law and rounding up a bunch of illegals?

      1. Whoa, wait… what???

      2. Hey Artie, you’re account has been hacked.

      3. Nothing about illegals is mentioned in the article. But Arty probably considers American citizens that do blue collar work to be ‘illegals’.

      4. Dear Reverend,
        You might want to blow up the picture in the article and review the names and photos. My guess is you might come to the conclusion that there are very few of your feared “illegals”….

      5. Why in hell should a handyman be required to have (and PAY for) a license. Asked and answered.

      6. Thank God we have good wholesome licensed contractors who will try and charge $1,000 to replace the blower in a furnace.

      7. on what basis do government demand someone have a permission slip, coming at signficant cost and often much time, to perform a service for another individual? Will they soon enough require another permission slip, examinations/testing, and training, to assure they can wipe their own bum before they leave the loo?
        This is good old boy protectionism, inside buddy back slapping, palm greasing for preferred folks racket. It would also likely be enticement, as the coppers initiated then carefully negoatiated the specific a arrangements that led to the arrests. Unless these guys find justice real soon, this could really ruin some of their lives. Al for the coppers to play the Hee Row.

        Nothing was said about the immigration status of any of the individuals.

        1. It is also a way for governments to fill their coffers, since the type of work that needs to be done by a “licensed” contractor requires a permit be purchased from the local building department.
          Almost all work done to one’s home, including that which is done by the homeowner, requires a permit.
          In my area, when you sell, you must have your home inspected and any noticeable improvements, that you can’t show a permit for, must be disclosed to the buyer as “unpermitted”
          Oh, and the permit application requires the cost of said improvement, which is added to the value of your home, when property taxes are next due.
          They get you coming and going.

      8. Actually licensing laws original purpose was to exclude blacks and other minorities from certain professions.

    2. Bingo

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    3. A smart DA would drop all charges. These are not major job and would add tremedous amount of cost and effort to actually get licensed contractors.

      Here is a thought: abandon occupational licensing except as a qualifier.

      1. Yeeeeesssss!!!

  2. Having lived in Hillsborough County before, I promise you the cops have better things to be doing. Basically every episode of Cops from the 90s had at least 1 scene from Hillsborough County.

    1. I’ll bet those “better things” are more work (read: risky and difficult) than running a sting on a bunch of unlicensed handymen.

      1. The guy you ask to paint your living room is unlikely to start shouting “die pigs” and pull out an uzi.

        1. That would result in an interesting decor, though.

          1. Nah, cut the walls up into 18″x24″ sections, frame ’em and hire a well-connected dealer to declare them “art”. Very edgy, hyuuuuge profit.

        2. Have you been to Florida? Not as unlikely as you’d think.

        3. Well, maybe much more likely now!

          (Sorry, I accidentally flagged your posting when I meant to hit Reply.)

      2. Yes, service providers performing a God given right to perform a service for compensation.

        1. We need that right stated in the Bill of Rights. How ’bout this?—”Congress and the States shall make no laws prohibiting willing sellers from selling goods and services to willing buyers.”

          1. how about the existing clealry stated RIGHT to freely associate (does not address on what sorts of terms one cn associate), freely move about, and the right to NOT incriminate one’s self? A careful reading of this situation could easily result in charged tossed, as they were tricked and eenticed, had informatioin and agreements coerced from them which was then later used to arrest/charge them. Incriminating evidence was solicited from their victims wihout informing them of their rights….

            1. Yeah, how’s that working?

  3. wow Florida is a fucked up place

  4. I love how they frame them as con men and not free men.

    1. They’re illegals. You might prefer a euphemism. They can try it with
      a judge.

      1. I didn’t realize you were pro-Trump.

        1. I think he’s just outed himself as a racist hatemonger. That’s how it works with Trump anyway.

          1. I think you just outed yourself as a partisan hack race bater with the brains of a tape recorder.

      2. Stupid even by your standards, Rev.

  5. Florida will sleep better knowing these dangerous people are being dealt with.

  6. We knew they were unlicensed contractors when they showed up on time, did the job right the first time, and didn’t go over budget.

    1. Definitely not union work.

    2. And cleaned up after themselves.

  7. I hope at least one of the Hispanic handymen asked the cops if a license was like a badge, and when told yes, responded “Badges? We don’t need no steekin’ badges!”

    Anyway, do these people look like they can afford a $1000 fine? What a bag a dicks in the Hillsborough Co Sheriff’s Office.

    1. Well, they make a lot of money having them in jail.

  8. …part of a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office sting known as “Operation House Hunters.”

    Entrapment TV is HGTV’s version of Shark Week.

  9. What kind of work doesn’t require a license in Florida?

    1. Buying votes – – – – – –

    2. Counting hanging chads

    3. Drug dealing.
      Squeegee man.
      Panhandling.
      Bogus SS card production and distribution.
      Hooker.
      State Legislator.
      Police informant.

      From the news, that sounds like a big portion of the economy, amirite?

      1. You forgot credit card forgery.

    4. Arty’s part time job doesn’t.

    5. Iguana chef?

  10. Why did they wait several months to arrest them…
    All the while these handymen continue pray on other victims. These dangerous people should have been arrested immediately.

    1. Pretty sure praying only requires a license if you charge for it.

    2. Oops, I meant to say, continue to prey on other victims.

  11. WHATEVER YOU DO, do ***NOT*** ask the permission of an un-authorized person, to grant you permission to scratch your own ass, brush your own teeth, or to blow, personally, yourself, upon a cheap plastic flute!!!! I BEG of you!!! For your own good!

    To find precise details on what NOT to do, to avoid the flute police, please see http://www.churchofsqrls.com/DONT_DO_THIS/ … This has been a pubic service, courtesy of the Church of SQRLS!

  12. The lesson is clear, don’t start work without a Twenty Seven B-stroke Six.

  13. Entrapment!

  14. Painting, unhooking a toilet, and tiling requires a license? If an untrained homeowner can do it after watching a YouTube video, it doesn’t need to be licensed.

    1. untrained homeowner

      I’m fairly certain I did all of those well before I owned a home. Maybe even before I was licensed driver. Two of them probably before I was an unlicensed driver.

      And this was back in the day before low VOC paint and ready-mixed thin set.

    2. I see where you’re going with this. We need to license homeowners.

    3. Do you need a license to operate a wood chipper?

      1. Most relevant inquiry: Do you need a license to vote for a new Sheriff?

        1. I said the new sheriff is a n*****.

          1. Ugh. Prairie Gibberish.

          2. He is near?

    4. I agree you shouldn’t need a license to do any of that, but if you think the common home owner’s paint- or heaven forbid, tile- job is anywhere close to mine, well, you’re wrong.

      1. No doubt that’s true. Let’s throw them in jail for it.

  15. Take off the goggles, people. The “license” from the state doesn’t mean that the person knows how to perform the task at hand. Nor does it mean your safety is guaranteed. It just means the person has paid a fine to the state and the government has deemed them “legally able to perform the services.” It means the state got their money, and beyond that they don’t care. This is police state at its worst. Did they perform the tasks satisfactorily? If an inspector was to certify the work, would it pass muster? Then leave people alone and let them determine for themselves who they can hire and what work they can perform! Anyone who thinks this is “fantastic,” and believes what the article says about “being safer” is wearing rose-colored lenses. This is just another example of how law enforcement is more interested in enforcing the law than serving and protecting. Busting pimps and johns and solving the trafficking problem? Nope. Busting narc dealers? Nope. Developing relationships and trust within the community? Nope. But let’s bust those handymen who haven’t paid their dues to the state!

    1. Relationships and trust within the community??? LOL!

      I remember way back, after Clinton gathered up many truckloads of money to be hosed out to connected Democrat-run cities in the name of “Community Oriented Policing”, my friends and I could name a dozen places to buy coke or pot WITHIN A MILE of our work, but none of us knew the name of even a single local cop.

      There were a few “mini-stations” that got put into malls and stores, but they were never occupied. And to think, people used to tell kids “Cops are your friends! They’ll help you.” Now they’re more likely to drive an armored personnel carrier up your street than to help you if you’ve locked your keys in your car.

      “Cat up a tree? Well, ma’am…we can shoot it down, but other than that…nah.”

      1. Oh cat up a tree.

        Operation Snowball

        https://youtu.be/ebbckGSSGGg

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  17. Might be worth heading over to Twitter and giving the HCSO sheriff department your feedback:
    https://twitter.com/HCSOSheriff/status/1224710945911558147?s=19

  18. Thank god our heroic boys in blue have removed these DANGEROUS CON MEN from the streets. Lord only knows what sort of horrible nightmares they might have inflicted upon the UNSUSPECTING RESIDENTS of Hillsborough county. I tell you, the gangs can do whatever they like this weekend, this is priority one.

  19. It’s entrapment and a disgraceful waste of taxpayer money and hurting people who are not “criminals”. What an embarrassing keystone cops outfit that poor community has in a police force.

  20. This…can’t be true. It is a satire or fake news right?

    Please tell me it is.

  21. Hillsborough County is the butthole of Florida and the sheriff department is make up entirely of rednecks who would rather be roughing up uppity Negros.

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  23. Don’t worry, Shikha, all “undocumented aliens” were immediately pardoned and let go.

    Only Americans have to comply with pesky American laws, regulations, and paperwork, and if they don’t will be treated as criminals.

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  25. Cops should be “deterring other, more serious crimes.” Like Chinese masseuses.

  26. “Frequently, she says, officers will hire a handyman on the pretext of performing work that doesn’t need a license, and then during the course of the job ask them to do something that does, like unhooking a toilet or laying some tiles.”

    Crime creation by government, Entrapment that creates crime. I wonder how much money these governments have/will ‘earn’ via Civil Asset Forfeiture.

  27. As a 40-year licensed building contractor, I’ve come across a few unscrupulous so-called contractors who do sub-par work that doesn’t meet code. But most independent contractors are just ordinary folk trying to make a living and offer a decent service at a reasonable price.

    I’ve saved homeowners many thousands of dollars by doing code-compliant electrical or plumbing work, even though I don’t hold those licenses (I’ve even taught those skills to others). My work always passed inspection.

    Codes and licensing regulations can be valuable in setting minimum standards of professionalism, but a sting like this serves no one except the municipality that rakes in fines.

    1. Not to mention that any work that doesn’t comply with every minute aspect of every code is a guaranteed death sentence for your family and pets.

  28. I agree that occupational licensing regulations is often just about protecting incumbent businesses and government revenue, but in the case of many home repair categories, I think it makes sense to deal with licensed contractors. It will improve the odds of the contractor having proper liability insurance as well as (at least a little) helping make sure the “handyman” knows the proper way to do the work. This is especially true for plumbers and electricians. I live in Charlotte county Florida (100 miles or so South of Hillsborough county) and similar stings have been carried out here.

    1. You can request an Acord Certificate of Insurance from said contractor if this is a concern. As for your other concerns, the owner has recourse for poorly done work through small claims court. How about we assume that these individuals performing the work are capable unless they demonstrate incompetence rather than assuming incompetence unless they have the proper imprimatur from the state? Also, you presume too much on behalf of the government when you start with the premise that government is competent. Why don’t you give the same benefit of the doubt regarding competence to individuals?

    2. That’s fine, if that’s what you want, but if my roof is caving in and I opt for an unlicensed guy instead of saving up for 2 years to afford the cartel guy’s price, that should be my decision, not the government’s. I’ve had good luck with moonlighters. You just need to be a little smart about who you hire. Which is also true with the licensed contractors. Having the government’s seal of approval is a joke anyway.

  29. What’s really interesting is that if you zoom in on the rightmost poster, it becomes quite obvious that two of the alleged perps — Charles Sanders and Charles Vernice — are in fact the same person. I haven’t spent perused the rest of the mug shots in enough depth to see if there are other duplicates, but that stood out to me.

  30. Honest, free Americans need a counter-intelligence app: an easily accessible, searchable database with photos of all “law enforcement” workers in a given area. Such an app would be valuable in a situation like this – a stranger approaches you, snap his picture and run it through the app to see if one of these con artists is trying to lure you into a sting.
    One-time payment or subscription model, either way I imagine such an app would be wildly profitable.

    1. It would be easier to simply make it illegal for cops to lie to citizens.

    2. Such an app would be magic if you ran a business of any kind. It would be possible to recognize the states armed thugs immediately and then automatically add a 20% ‘Law Enforcement Levy’ to their bill.

  31. This is complete and utter ridiculousness. But, as many have already pointed out, it ensures that dirty, lazy cops get paid without having to protect their citizens from real crime. We have all seen LE’s (Florida in particular) reaction to real crime, like when children were getting gunned down at a school. The reaction is to quiver in their boots and hide. Stings, which are extremely popular in Florida, will net arrests through entrapment and very little work and absolutely no bravery in Law Enforcements part. The people of Florida should do something about this, but I think they are too busy applauding LE for everything they do, and rewarding massive idiots like drunkard Ron Book and his professional victim daughter, Lauren Book.
    Anyhoo, almost all stings involve this sort of “bait and switch” which should be illegal. They should all be illegal. To start out with one thing and then badger and badger until you can get the person to agree to it and then arrest them? What the f*** is wrong with LE where they think that is okay? And wtf is wrong with politicians/lawmakers where they support this? I feel like our country is falling apart and it’s all due to things like this.

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  34. The only thing licensing does for the consumer is provide a list of complaints managed by the government and a steady stream of fees. With all the contractor review sites it is completely unnecessary.

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  36. I guess they do not have more serious crime there to spend taxpayer money fighting.

  37. Many years ago, we did a job for a lady in Alabama who then refused to pay us on the grounds that we were not licensed in Alabama. We took her to court and it took the judge about 3 seconds to rule on the case – we had agreed to do the work, she had agreed to pay us, whether or not we were licensed to do business in Alabama was between us and the state of Alabama and had nothing to do with her, pay up.

    So my question is – did the cops actually pay for the work and did they intend to pay for the work? If the guys who did the work didn’t get paid for the job, then it wasn’t actually working without a license was it? They were just getting swindled by the cops and how can being the victim of swindlers be a crime?

  38. I wonder if the issue is as simple as Mr. Britschgi is making out…

    Among those arrested was Steven Velletri, 54. On March 18, detectives said they met with Velletri, who offered to stucco and paint the exterior of their home for $4,200. Velletri proved to be not only an unlicensed contractor, but also a registered sex offender convicted of third-degree rape, said Chronister. Velletri was also charged with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.

    Hmmm…a history of rape seems like a valid reason to deny someone a license to perform work on someone’s home. I wonder why that was omitted from the Reason article?

    On June 17, undercover detectives arranged to meet Troy Massey, 47, who was advertising his services on Craigslist. Massey told detectives he could install recessed lighting and paint the inside of their home for $1,100. Detectives learned that Massey’s state-certified contractor’s license was revoked in 2011 after he was disciplined two years before for abandoning a project in Hillsborough County and failing to take care of the requirements imposed on him during the disciplinary hearing.
    “In this case, a licensed electrician would be familiar with current electrical codes and requirements. They follow the latest practices to avoid the risk of fires, high voltage shocks and other hazards that can occur with substandard electrical work,”

    Hmmmm…defrauding a customer, refusing to fix shoddy work, and not knowing the codes for electrical work (which can burn down a house) seems like a valid reason for denying someone a license. I wonder why this was omitted from the Reason article?

    Massey was also charged with violation of parole on two counts of burglary of an unoccupied structure.

    Hmmm…also seems relevant to not getting a license, and also missing from Reason’s analysis.

    Maybe the story’s not quite as simple as “mean old government picking on the little guy to support evil corporate interests”.

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  41. A balten misuse of law enforcement personnel and funds.
    Not to mention STUPID….

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  43. “is often much more about protecting incumbent businesses and government licensing revenue than it is about safeguarding the welfare of consumers.”

    Like Demented and Deluded Donald’s lawyers claimed during the recent Senate un-trial, if a politician think that whatever personally benefits them is in the public interest, it’s a good thing.

    Welcome to Conservatism in action, Biotches.

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  50. As Upholders of the law and Protectors of whatever, lets ENTRAP citizens who KNOW what they’re doing, and are hired to do what they do, wait till they do it, and then arrest them for not having a license. Where is the crime? Who is the victim? The work contracted was done to the customers satisfaction–where is the crime? contractual obligation performed! I can make an easy living in this field, and they’re gonna arrest me for it? Talk to the homeowner who’s getting their plumbing fixed…do they care about a license? No! they want their plumbing fixed, NOW. That’s what they get, arrest the homeowner if anyone, and I do not approve of that either. Would any of these cops hire their UNLICENSED buddy to patch their ceiling? In a minute! Do your job and go catch a real criminal, or even (hey!) someone BREAKING THE LAW. There is no victim, and by thence no crime.

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  54. Wasn’t this in the movie Brazil?
    Are we officially in dystopian times?

  55. Bastards. They’ll do anything to prevent people from earning a decent living and getting out from under the thumb of an oppressive bureaucracy.

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  57. So you would think that Hillsborough county would have a really low property crime rate if there is time and resources to pursue violations of Jim Crow laws. But it is 38% higher than the national average. (48.9 vs 35.4)

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