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Tri-Cities contractor charged with felony theft in consumer scam

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October 19, 2017 #17-040

Kennewick – A Richland concrete contractor faces unregistered contracting and felony theft charges in an alleged scheme to steal thousands of dollars from consumers.

Jesse Scott Espinoza, owner of Jesse's Custom Concrete, is accused of accepting down payments for two concrete jobs as an unregistered contractor, then never working a single day on the projects. 

The 38-year-old is scheduled for arraignment on Friday, Oct. 20, in Benton County District Court on two gross misdemeanor charges of unregistered contracting and two misdemeanor counts of failing to respond to civil infractions for unregistered contracting.

He pleaded not guilty last month in Benton County Superior Court to two felony, second-degree theft charges involving these same cases. His trial on the felony charges is scheduled for Dec. 11.

The Benton County Prosecuting Attorney's office is prosecuting the cases based on contractor compliance investigations by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I). 

"It's so important for people to make sure contractors they hire are registered with L&I," said Elizabeth Smith, assistant director of L&I Fraud Prevention & Labor Standards. "Hiring a registered contractor gives people a way to get some financial recourse if something goes wrong with the project or the contractor."

State law requires construction contractors to register with L&I. The agency confirms the contractors have a business license, liability insurance, and a bond, and meet other requirements. Construction contractors can't legally work or advertise as contractors if their registration is suspended or they never were registered.

Paying for work that never started

Espinoza's registration was suspended May 2, 2017, after he failed to follow through on an L&I payment plan to pay off thousands of dollars in late premiums for workers' compensation insurance.  

One week after the suspension, he accepted $3,000 from a Richland man and woman for a concrete job, according to charging papers. About three weeks after that, an L&I inspector caught Espinoza's workers installing sidewalks in Richland, and issued Espinoza an infraction for unregistered contracting, according to L&I records.

Within a week of the infraction, Espinoza accepted a $2,000 down payment on June 5 from a Kennewick homeowner for a driveway project.

Despite accepting the two down payments, Espinoza never showed up for work on either project and never returned the money, charging papers said.

Owes more than $18,000 to L&I

In addition to the criminal charges, Espinoza has received four civil infractions this year for unregistered contracting. He owes L&I more than $6,500 for late workers' comp insurance premiums, and more than $12,000 in fines for the infractions. 

"L&I wants to protect consumers and their hard-earned money," Smith said.  "Contact us for help whenever you hire a construction contractor."

Check if a contractor is registered and get hiring tips at www.ProtectMyHome.net or call L&I at 1-800-647-0982.

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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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