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King County unregistered contractor must repay elderly victim more than $31,000

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January 29, 2016 #16-005

Seattle – An unregistered contractor who convinced an 87-year-old Shoreline woman to hire him nine times in one month must repay the victim more than $31,000.

Contractor Stephen B. Nelson, 50, of Woodinville, pleaded guilty in King County District Court this week to a gross misdemeanor count of unregistered contracting. Judge Ketu Shah ordered Nelson to serve two years on probation and repay the victim within two years. He also must undergo a drug and mental health evaluation, follow any treatment recommendations and pay court fees, which may be converted to community service.

If Nelson fails to follow the terms or commits a crime within two years, he will face a $5,000 fine and up to 364 days in jail.

Hire registered contractors

"This case shows why it's so important to make sure you hire a registered contractor," said Elizabeth Smith, assistant director of L&I's Fraud Prevention & Labor Standards. "Unregistered contractors often target senior citizens to scam, but it could happen to anyone."

The Washington Attorney General's Office prosecuted the case based on an investigation by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries.

Nelson, who was doing business as American Landscape, first removed a tree and repaired a chimney on the victim's Shoreline house in February 2013, charging papers said. After completing that work, he kept offering to do more repairs on that home and a rental house in Seattle that the woman also owned.

Son discovers scam

Over the course of a month, the woman wrote Nelson's wife nine checks ranging from $629 to $8,650 to pay for the repairs in advance, charging papers said. The following month, the victim's son discovered his mother had hired an unregistered contractor. The son cancelled five jobs that had yet to be completed and asked Nelson to refund his mother for those jobs.

The woman's son told L&I his mother hadn't sought the repairs, but that the contractor gained her sympathy by telling her he had health problems, according to the L&I investigation.

Safety violations for electrocuted worker

Nelson had been registered as a general contractor from May 2009 until his license was suspended in August 2012. Apart from the criminal case, Nelson and his business received two civil infractions for unregistered contracting in 2011 and 2013.

In 2012, L&I cited his business for safety violations and imposed fines of $35,800 after an employee was killed by high-voltage power lines while removing a tree on residential property. Nelson appealed and as part of a settlement agreement reached in May 2013 — three months after the Shoreline and Seattle incidents — L&I waived the fine on the condition that he never again work in the arborist or tree-trimming industries.

Nelson still owes L&I more than $329,000 in unpaid workers' compensation insurance premiums, penalties and interest, and more than $3,600 for the contractor infractions. L&I is pursuing collection of the debts.

Go to www.ProtectMyHome.net

State law requires contractors to register with L&I, which confirms they have a business license, liability insurance and a bond to provide some recourse for consumers if problems arise. Consumers can verify contractor registration online (www.ProtectMyHome.net).

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For media information: Debby Abe, L&I Public Affairs, debby.abe@Lni.wa.gov, (360) 902-6043.

Connect with L&I: Facebook (facebook.com/laborandindustries) and Twitter (twitter.com/lniwa)

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