Eight people were arrested and charged with construction fraud after governor Rick Scott temporarily legalized state-licensed general, building and residential contractors to hasten rebuilding after Hurricane Irma devastated the Tampa Bay area in September 2017.
The eight illegal workers, as well as 73 others, were identified through a three-month criminal investigation which started in July 2017. Also called Operation Rebuild, the police probe targeted unlicensed contractors as part of the Homeland Security Division Construction Fraud Unit’s efforts to eradicate illegal construction activities.
Through information obtained by the investigation, the following were arrested for contracting construction services without a license during a state of emergency: Alvaro Rojas, Richard Hanke, Dennis Hollingsworth, Gino Michaels, Angelo Thomas, Heath McCarthy, Anna Johnson, and Joseph Zink.
According to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which issues licenses to building trades, it is common for illegal contractors to offer services after a disaster. With cut-rate prices, they can easily entice victims who are often desperate to rebuild.
Unlicensed contractors are not regulated. As a result, they get away with using substandard materials and delivering low-quality work. They provide no warranties and work is done without required permits and inspections that ensure building safety. These scenarios, according to News Channel 8, can cause costly repairs, code violations, and other liabilities.
On Sept. 29, a similar arrest was made by Volusia County deputies with the assistance of the Daytona Police Beach Department. The authorities went undercover and connected with the suspects who advertised their illegal services on social media. During negotiation, the undercover deputies pretended to hire the suspects and directed them to a home address where officials were already stationed to make an arrest.