Garamendi Returns to Wildfire Areas; 21 Unlicensed Contractors Arrested

April 19, 2004

California Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi announced Monday that a multi-agency law enforcement task force has netted 21 felony arrests of unlicensed contractors in San Bernardino since the end of the October 2003 wildfires.

Standing with various state officials, San Bernardino county and city law enforcement, and local prosecutors, Garamendi said that the efforts have helped to protect victims of the fires from being victimized again.

“These actions helped protect homeowners and others devastated by the wildfires against the heinous actions of those who would take advantage of this tragedy to line their own pockets,” said Garamendi. “The presence of these enforcement agencies undoubtedly deterred even more fraud and crime. I salute all of them for the good work they accomplished.”

The arrests resulted from multi-jurisdictional, inter-agency sweeps and stings by the San Bernardino Disaster Fraud Task Force. The crimes are felonies because the unlicensed contractors were bidding on “projects” worth more than $500 and located in a state-declared disaster area.

Garamendi noted that the unlicensed contractors likely were not carrying workers’ compensation policies for their employees, exposing them to serious medical and financial peril.

“If these suspects were not holding workers’ compensation policies, then they were contributing to the serious problems of California’s workers’ compensation system,” said Garamendi. “I have made it a priority to fight workers’ compensation fraud and help bring relief to employers already overburdened by its costs.”

Of the 21 felony arrests, 15 criminal complaints have already been filed resulting in five convictions to date. “I’m particularly proud of the cooperative spirit exhibited by all the task force agencies,” stated Garamendi. “Together, we’re putting would-be perpetrators on notice: we are watching you, you will be caught, and you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible.”

The California Department of Insurance’s Fraud Division, the Contractor’s State Licensing Board, the San Bernardino District Attorney’s Office, the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office, the San Bernardino Police Department, and the San Bernardino City Attorney’s Office were all members of the task force. In addition, local Kinko’s and Target as well as Lake Arrowhead Resort offered private-sector assistance to facilitate the task force’s efforts.

Future enforcement actions are planned in San Bernardino as rebuilding efforts continue.

Later Monday evening, Garamendi was to host a town hall meeting in San Bernardino, where he was to meet with fire victims to hear about their progress, concerns and issues related to insurance coverage and rebuilding efforts.

The Department of Insurance provided extensive assistance and information to victims during and after the wildfires as they dealt with insurance issues and began rebuilding their lives.

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