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A first-of-its-kind sting operation by Utah state regulators in St. George and Davis County resulted in citations to 22 people and businesses who advertised construction services online but did not have a state-issued contractor license.

Mark Steinagel, director of the Utah Department of Professional Licensing (DOPL), said investigators used houses belonging to the Utah Department of Transportation and a licensed contractor. They then went online to classified ad sites such as Craigslist and and compared ads for contractor services with the agency's list of licensed contractors.

"For those for whom we couldn't find licenses, we set up bids," he said. "Some of them did turn out to be licensed … but still half, at least, turned out to be unlicensed."

Almost all of the 22 entities or people were assessed $500 fines and all received cease-and-desist orders.

According to state officials, some examples from the citations included:

• A person with a "Handyman Exemption" bid a job for $5,453, which exceeded the $3,000 limit for that exemption.

• An unlicensed person advertising as a landscaper offered to complete front and rear landscaping, hot tub removal, tree removal, new grass and new sprinkler system for no more than $10,000.

• Another unlicensed person bid to tile two decks for $1,000 in materials and $1,850 in labor. He also bid wood floors for $9,000 in materials (engineered wood flooring) and $3,275.00 in labor.

Carol Sapp, executive director of the Southern Utah Home Builders Association, said licensed contractors support DOPL's enforcement actions because they help legitimate contractors compete and protect consumers.

"It's a real problem," she said. "The licensed contractors are happy to see when someone finally pays attention to the unlicensed contractors."

Francine Giani, executive director of the Utah Department of Commerce, said the operation was part of an effort promoted by the National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies that also included stings in Arizona, California, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island and South Carolina.

"When homeowners want something fixed or upgraded, they are quick to compare prices but not quick to check to see if someone is licensed through the state," Giani said in a statement. "Do yourself a favor and take five minutes to check them out at where you can verify, online, anytime."

For consumers, having a written contract with a licensed contractor has a number of advantages, Steinagel said.

• DOPL checks for a criminal history when someone applies for a contractor license or renewal.

• It examines court records for judgments, bankruptcies and tax liens to see if the contractor is "financially responsible," and can require that they be bonded.

• It examines their level of experience.

• The applicants have to take an exam to assess their knowledge.

• Homeowners who enter into a written contract with a licensed contractor and pay for work are protected by a state-run law that covers subcontractors who have not been paid by the main contractor. It removes liens from a property and reimburses subcontractors from the fund into which all licensed contractors pay.

• Requires contractors to have liability insurance with DOPL also on the policy so that it can't be canceled without regulators being notified.

Steinagel said the agency will continue to carry out stings, as well as investigate complaints and visit construction sites.

Twitter: TomHarveySltrib —

Contractors busted

Contractor, city, action taken

• MC Kustomz, St. George $500 fine.

• Steve Oden, Painting St. George $500

• Emery Horticultural Service, St. George, $500

• JK Interior Painting, St. George $500

• Cam Development, St. George $500

• Ideal Placements, La Verkin $500

• Noble Painting, Minersville $500

• Red Rock Property Services, Santa Clara $500

• A.P. Remodels & Handyman Service, St. George $500

• Evans Tile & Stone, Washington $500

• Aaron Window Cleaning, St. George $500

• EZ Duz It, St. George $500

• Wasatch Contemporary Cabinets, Salt Lake City $500

• Juan A. Diaz, Salt Lake City, cease- and-desist order

• Jesus Martinez, Salt Lake City, $500

• Quality Industrial Utah Remodeling/Anthony Schepcoff, Salt Lake City cease-and-desist order

• MC Brothers, Construction Kearns $250

• Big Stack Masonry/Ryan McManigal, Cottonwood Heights cease-and-desist order

• Connectionz Plumbing/Troy Ljuberg, Syracuse $500

• Jeffrey L. Davis, Sandy $500

• AKA Flooring & Design, Salt Lake City $500

• Westland Painting Ralph Stowers, Cottonwood Heights $500 The Utah Department of Commerce offers these tips for choosing a contractor

Go the extra step

• Ask to see a copy of the contractor's license

• Check to see if the contractor has a valid license at

Steps to take when seeking a bid for contracting work to protect yourself from fraud:

• Always hire a licensed contractor so you have the ability to file a complaint if something goes wrong in the business transaction.

• Get three written estimates to compare.

• Check at least three references with former customers.

• Check with materials suppliers on which contractors/companies they would recommend.

• Require a written contract to protect yourself and your property against liens.

• Don't make a large down payment; pay as work is completed.

• Monitor the job in progress.

• Don't make the final payment until the job is complete per the terms of your contract.

• Keep copies of all paperwork related to your job.