From construction to tree trimming, California laws are meant to protect consumers from unscrupulous contractors, but the laws don’t always work. Just ask Regina Aleman.
Aleman and her three young children wanted to move to 29 Palms Military Base to be with her husband, Marine Sgt. Christopher Aleman. But first, Regina needed the backyard of their house in Upland landscaped so she could rent it.
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Regina went onto Craigslist and contacted several companies, including Trees R Us.
Jonathan Rede went out to see what she needed done.
“'I could do the whole job for $1,700,'” Regina said Rede told her. “Then he asked for a $1,000 deposit.”
Regina wrote out the check and was happy when Rede and his crew started the job, but that was the last she saw of him.
Rede disappeared with the Alemans' thousand bucks.
“I called back again and again,” Regina told NBC4’s Ana Garcia. “My husband has even tried to call. No answer.”
Rede had a contractor’s license number on his contract. It turns out it belonged to his wife so he would not be allowed to use it, even if it was a valid license, which it is not. His wife’s license is suspended.
Operating without a license is not the only law Rede broke.
Rick Lopes is with the Contractor’s State License Board, an agency in the business of catching unlicensed contractors.
“They can ask for no more than 10 percent or a $1,000, whichever is less,” said Rick Lopes with the Contractor’s State License Board, an agency in the business of catching unlicensed contractors.
“So if this contract is for $1,700, they couldn’t ask for a deposit any bigger that $170," Lopes said.
Investigators set up a sting and made an appointment with Jonathan Rede to get an estimate. NBC4 brought along hidden cameras.
The state also called in police officers because Rede is wanted on a $50,000 warrant for vandalism.
Lopes said Rede was a no show.
“About 20 minutes before the appointment, he called us and said that he was in a car accident,” Lopes said.
No one can be sure whether that was true or if Rede became suspicious.
NBC4 decided to try to find him. We set up hidden cameras in and around the lawn of a house in Upland. Then a Get Garcia producer called Rede and left him a voicemail message saying she needed some work done on a tree. He did not return the call.
Meanwhile, Rede continued to look for new business, running ads daily on Craigslist under various names like Your Neighborhood Tree Service, Christian Family Tree Service and Licensed Tree Service with promises to be “safe” and “reliable.”
After attempts by the state and NBC4 proved fruitless, the Get Garcia team made another call to Lopes from the Upland house outfitted with hidden cameras. We were told a man named “Riccardo” would come out.
Finally, someone showed up.
“Are you Riccardo?” our producer asked.
“Yes, how are you doing?” the man responded.
Our producer took “Riccardo” around the yard, saying she needed a tree trimmed, another tree planted, some lawn work and a flower bed extended.
“Riccardo” said he could do the job for $1,055. Then he asked for a deposit of $250, nearly a quarter of the estimate and much higher than the 10 percent allowed by law.
Ana Garcia, who had been watching the situation unfold from inside the house, joined the producer and “Riccardo” on the lawn.
“Hi, Jonathan Rede, Ana Garcia with NBC4 News. We’ve been looking for you.”
The man on the lawn, the man who called himself Ricardo, was in fact Jonathan Reed.
“We want to talk to you about Marine Sgt. Aleman. He and his family say you owe him $1,000,” Garcia told him.
“They wanted us to put some sprinklers and some lawn in. They were upset because we didn’t move a swing and a shed,” Rede responded.
Ana asked why he had not returned the Aleman’s repeated phone calls.
“It was twice,” Reed told Ana. “I told them to take us to court.”
Next, Garcia asked about his contracting license: “Is that a valid license?”
“No,” he responded.
“So you’re operating without a license?” she asked.
“Yes, I am,” the man said.
The Contractors State License Board said it is still looking for Rede and sooner or later, it will find him. In the meantime, the Alemans’ backyard is still bare and their bank account is still down $1,000.
“I want people to know what he’s doing,” Regina said. “He’s just scamming everyone and I know I’m not the only one.”
The Contractor’s State License Board said that to protect yourself, always verify a contractor’s license number.
License numbers can be verified by entering the digits on the Contractors State License Board’s website here. And never pay a deposit that is more than 10 percent of the job.
Update: After this story aired on Wednesday, May 23, the owner of Lakeview Patios in Huntington Beach offered to fix the Aleman’s yard for free.