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Santa Monica Contractor Charged with Bilking Client


By Lookout Staff

January 6 – An unlicensed Santa Monica contractor faces criminal charges after allegedly collecting a $15,000 down payment to remodel a kitchen, then pocketing the money without doing the work, according to the City Attorney’s office.

The arraignment at the LAX criminal courthouse last month of Hosayn Mandi, owner of New Line Interiors in Santa Monica, is part of a City crackdown on contractors engaging in illegal practices during tough economic times.

“The tightening of credit and a worsening economy may create more opportunities in 2009 for unlicensed contractors to take advantage of Santa Monicans who are trying to find bargains,” said Deputy City Attorney Gary Rhoades.

Clients trying to save a buck should be especially careful to get their money’s worth when hiring unlicensed contractors, Rhoades said.

“The vast majority of our complaints involve not just the lack of licensing, but folks who didn’t get close to what they bargained for,” Rhoades said. “It will be cheaper in the long run if you insist on licensed work.”

Filed November 6, the charges against Mandi and New Line Interiors include contracting without a license, charging an excessive down payment, theft and operating without a City business license.

The count of unlicensed contracting is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, Rhoades said. The other offenses are each punishable by up to one year in County Jail.

In addition, Mandi could face a maximum fine of $5,000 for charging an excessive down payment, Rhoades said.

The City Attorney’s office has obtained a court order that prohibits Mandi and New Line Interiors from conducting any contractor’s business pending trial, City officials said.

The charges were filed by the City Attorney’s Consumer Protection Unit as part of an ongoing partnership with the Contractors State Licensing Board (CSLB) to crack down on illegal practices by contractors in Santa Monica.

Mandi’s case -- which was the Unit’s fifth such filing of 2008 -- will begin with a trial-setting hearing set for January 28, making it one of the Unit’s first prosecutions in the new year.

The Consumer Protection Unit urges consumers to know their rights with contractors, including:

• The right to hire licensed contractors;
• The right to check a contractor’s license at www.cslb.ca.gov or 800-321-2752;
• The right to pay only 10 percent or $1,000, whichever is less, as a down payment;
• The right to a written contract that specifies project costs, the down payment, a payment schedule and start and completion date.

Contractor fraud ranks among the top five consumer complaints in California, according to the State Senate Oversight Committee. The widespread problem costs consumers nationwide more than $100 billion annually.

To report a consumer complaint against a contractor, call the CSLB fraud team at 562-345-7600 or go to www.cslb.ca.gov. For any contractor problems in Santa Monica, call the Consumer Protection Unit at 310-458-8336.

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