The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office arrested 16 unlicensed contractors who targeted and scammed elderly homeowners looking for home remodeling services in the Sun City Center area. Detectives went undercover for nine days in order to catch the scammers.
From Oct. 10 to Oct. 19, undercover officers involved in the sting, known as “Operation Retrofit,” responded to ads from contractors they knew or suspected were unlicensed. The sheriff’s office had a single-family home on loan for the operation, allowing the officers to get estimates on a variety of projects once they made contact with the suspects.
At a news conference, Sheriff Chad Chronister reported that two detectives posed as brothers looking to have their elderly mother’s home remodeled to accommodate a wheelchair and walker. According to the sheriff’s office, the contractors repeatedly broke the law by providing quotes for the projects without proper licensing. The suspects offered estimates totaling over $117,000 to the undercover officers.
Several of the men arrested in the scam had previous offenses against them. James Edward Hanko, who asked for $2,200 in exchange for remodeling a bathroom and painting and tiling the residence, confessed he had been a fugitive for the past seven years with active warrants out of Wisconsin. He was wanted for parole violation, larceny theft from a business, lewd and lascivious behavior, and fourth-degree sexual assault.
Darin Butts offered to replace a water heater and move electrical outlets for $270. According to the detectives, he is a registered sex offender and travels in Sun City Center in a vehicle that advertises him as a handyman. The sheriff’s Construction Fraud Unit had previously investigated another one of the arrested men, Donald Edward Tucker. Tucker contracted to move electrical switches, remodel the bathroom, paint the interior, and tile the home for $11,050, but his license was listed as null and void by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation in 2010.
A charge of unlicensed contracting, which is what Tucker faces, is considered a felony as a second offense. There are charges pending against six more suspects in the case.
Every year, homeowners remodel over 10.2 million kitchens and 14.2 million bathrooms. Chronister warns that scam artists are constantly trying to take advantage of every homeowner looking to have work done in their home by offering lower-than-average prices and then never delivering the promised work.