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Lee County's growing construction activity may be good for builders and remodelers but for 14 unlicensed contractors from Lee and Collier counties it was a bad time to place an ad for work.

The Lee County Sheriff's Office Economic Crimes Unit conducted a three-day sting targeting unlicensed contractors. It began that began Tuesday at a home in San Carlos Park.

Besides 14 being charged with not having a license, many of the individuals failed to have required workers' compensation insurance or a required exemption and were additionally charged with a violation of workers' compensation laws.

Unlicensed contractors have been a huge problem in Florida, officials from Lee County Code Enforcement said. "They are out there doing work they shouldn't be doing," said Len McCabe a senior code enforcement officer.

Will Barnes, who operates Ellsworth Air Conditioning Contracting and sits on the board of Tri County Specialty Contractors Association, said unlicensed contractors are bad for consumers and lawful contractors.

"As a contractor I have to renew licenses and abide by all the rules," he said, adding unlicensed contractors do the job improperly or might not finish or even start a paid-for job, leaving a consumer with little recourse.

Barnes said the sheriff's operation was a good thing.

The sting was conducted with undercover agents contacting individuals listed on websites such as Porch.Com and Craigslist.

A spokesman for the sheriff's office declined to comment to The News-Press. The sheriff's office has a policy of not commenting to The News-Press.

The sheriff's office said the sting was conducted due to the increase in construction in Lee County brought on by an improving economy, according to news partner WINK-TV.

"Unfortunately, there are many unlicensed contractors who do not possess required licensing, often lacking in the training and experience necessary to perform 'safe' work," the sheriff's office said in a news release. "In many cases, unlicensed contractors do not obtain the required permits in order to keep county officials from inspecting their work."

During the operation, individuals met with undercover officers and agreed to offer proposals to perform various construction tasks at the residence. The work proposed required the service provider to be a properly licensed contractor and carry workers' compensation coverage or have filed a certificate of exemption.

The arrestees were also issued civil citations from Lee County Code Enforcement for unlicensed contracting and the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation issued notices to "Cease and Desist."

Three additional individuals were issued Civil Citations from Code Enforcement along with notices to "cease and desist" and were released at the scene.

Those arrested

Unlicensed contracting and workers' compensation violation: John A. Bradley, 54, Cape Coral; Mark Diephouse, 46, Naples; Joseph John Ganzel, 30, Cape Coral; James Flynn Jr., 64, Bonita Springs; Andrea Jean Wittenborn, 48, North Fort Myers; Carl T. Wittenborn, 49, North Fort Myers; Richard Wasielewski, 58, Fort Myers; Alfredo Martinez-Cruz, 36 , Naples.

Unlicensed contracting: Luis Gabriel Guerra, 53, Naples; Robert James Wills, 60, Fort Myers; Juan F. Alban-Izquierdo, 37, Estero; Dennis Edward Romstadt, 69, no address available; Edward Michael Mason, 41, Lehigh Acres; Neil Leslie Cottrell, 50, Fort Myers

Checking licenses

Consumers can verify professional licenses with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation online at myfloridalicense.com, or by calling 850-487-1395. Citizens are asked to report any suspected unlicensed activity by calling the Unlicensed Activity Hotline at 866-532-1440, or by calling the Lee County Sheriff's Office.

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