Story by Kim Smith [email protected]
The Pima County Sheriff’s Department and the Arizona Registrar of Contractors are investigating after a Green Valley businessman said he's out $10,000 and was threatened by the owner of an unlicensed paving company.
Lt. Eric Johnson and Jim Knupp, chief communications officer for the Registrar of Contractors, said the case is a reminder for residents and business owners to make sure the companies they deal with are licensed contractors.
In an interview Wednesday, the businessman said he not only lost $10,000 as a result of the ordeal, but that he will likely have to repave his entire parking lot.
The man, who isn’t being named because he is a potential crime victim, said he was at work Jan. 9 when an orange paving truck with a Town and Country Paving emblem pulled into his parking lot. A man who introduced himself as Keith Lee of K. Lee Paving said they had extra asphalt and offered to fill in the parking lot's potholes for a fee.
Although the businessman had a paving job scheduled for early February, he agreed to hire the company for $500.
“I was worried about people falling,” the man said. “I thought, ‘I’m going to go ahead and resolve this safety issue,’ but when I came back later on, they’d repaved one-third of the parking lot.”
When he confronted Lee, Lee told him they had more asphalt than they thought and figured they’d use it up, the businessman recounted. When he told Lee the parking lot couldn’t be left unfinished, Lee told him they didn’t have enough asphalt to finish it.
Feeling he had no choice, he negotiated a price to finish the job, cut Lee a check for labor, and purchased $10,000 worth of asphalt from a local company to finish the job, the businessman said. The man said he couldn't recall the amount he negotiated for labor to finish the work.
At some point while the job was being completed, the businessman said he asked Lee for his tax identification number and his contractor’s license.
Lee got belligerent, told him he didn’t have those things and threatened him physically, the business owner claimed. After taking pictures of the trucks’ license plates — one had Florida plates and the other Massachusetts plates — he called his attorney. The attorney advised him to cancel his check.
On Jan. 12, he told Lee he was going to cancel his check for labor costs unless he provided him with the information he needed and Lee gave him what turned out to be a phony tax ID number, the businessman said. As a result, he canceled the check, he said.
On Jan. 16, Lee called and threatened him again and said he would tear up all the work he'd done because he was unable to cash the check, the businessman said.
“All hell broke loose and that’s when I called the Sheriff’s Department,” he said.
In addition to speaking with a deputy, the businessman said he has also spoken with an investigator with the Registrar’s office, which is investigating the licensing issue.
“I was told (by a Registrar of Contractor's investigator) that the whole parking lot is probably going to fall apart because they probably didn’t do certain things they were supposed to,” he said. “It was my own fault. I shouldn’t have been so trusting.”
Several phone messages left on the Massachusetts phone number Lee gave the businessman were not returned. No one answered at a Massachusetts number for Town and Country Paving found on the Internet, and a Google search for K. Lee Paving turned up nothing.
According to a Pima County Sheriff’s report, the man who answered at the phone number provided by the alleged victim cursed the deputy throughout the conversation. He accused the business owner of being a “crock (sic), a lowlife, that God was going to get him, things happen to people like him, such as Karma and that he is going to get his in the end from somebody else.”
The man, who the Sheriff's Department identified as Keith Lee, said he didn’t think he needed a license in Arizona and claimed he was forced to finish the parking lot after the businessman had the asphalt delivered, according to the report.
When asked where he was staying, the man said it wasn’t any of the deputy’s business, according to the report. He also refused to give the deputy his birthday or address and hung up on the deputy. A detective is going to be assigned to the case, Lt. Johnson said.
Knupp, with the Registrar’s office, said K. Lee Paving and Town and Country Paving are not licensed in Arizona. In 2016, he said, there were more than 2,000 cases of unlicensed contractors investigated throughout the state.
Contracting or advertising without a license is a misdemeanor, he said. Most of the time companies operating without a license do so because they’re not aware they need one, but there are “travelers” who come to states like Arizona in the winter to prey upon unsuspecting residents and businesses, Knupp said. They will take people’s money and either do no work or poor work before leaving abruptly, Knupp said.
First-time offenders are usually given a warning and told to “cease and desist,” Knupp said. If they continue, they face civil penalties of $200 to $2,500 and a jail term of up to six months per violation.
In some instances, if it’s believed the contractors have committed the felony crime of theft or fraud, they can be referred to county or state prosecutors, Knupp said. If convicted, they face significant prison time.
In one recent case, an unlicensed contractor in Maricopa County was sentenced to 10 years in prison, Knupp said.
“It was his business model,” he said.
Kim Smith | 547-9740
Originally published in Green Valley News on 1/21/2018