MURRIETA – A Lake Elsinore man caught posing as a licensed contractor was sentenced today to four years in prison for stealing money from unsuspecting homeowners who paid him for jobs that he walked away from after pocketing their money.
Reynaldo Rodriguez Jr., 31, was arrested Dec. 10 following an investigation by Riverside County sheriff’s detectives that culminated in the filing of more 55 felony and misdemeanor charges, including theft, burglary, operating a business without a license and embezzling from an elder or disabled victim.
On Feb. 20, Rodriguez struck a deal with the District Attorney’s Office in which he agreed to plead guilty to felony counts of grand theft and burglary, as well as a misdemeanor charge of contracting without a license. In exchange, the prosecution agreed to drop the remaining counts.
Superior Court Judge Michael Rushton certified the plea agreement and imposed the sentence stipulated by the prosecution and defense. Rushton also gave Rodriguez four months jail time credit — doubled to eight months under a statute designed to reduce prison overcrowding — effectively reducing the defendant’s sentence to just over three years, half of which he’ll have to serve before being eligible for parole.
The conviction will count as a strike on Rodriguez’s record. His prior convictions include possession of illegal drugs and committing contractor fraud, both of which resulted in jail time and probation.
Sheriff’s officials said investigators were informed in early December of suspected fraudulent activity, resulting in tens of thousands of dollars in losses to property owners.
Lt. Zachary Hall said the defendant presented himself as a ”legitimate contractor” while soliciting work.
”Once a quote was provided and monies were paid, Rodriguez either completed very little work — or none at all,” Hall said. ”Rodriguez conducted business under the name ‘R&R Construction’ or ‘Ray’s Hardscapes.”’
Multiple victims were identified initially, but according to the District Attorney’s Office, even more people came forward — 24 in all — alleging fraud after the defendant was jailed.
The Contractors State License Board offers the following recommendations for anyone planning to hire out for work on their property:
— any contracting job valued at more than $500 requires a license;
— unlicensed contractors can perform work that’s less than $500, but they must disclose that they’re not licensed in ads, according to state law;
— before anyone hires a contractor, they should verify the person’s license via the CSLB’s website, www.checkthelicensefirst.com;
— obtain at least three bids; and
— never pay more than 10 percent of the total estimated cost of a job, or $1,000, whichever is less.