A Santa Barbara man has pleaded no contest to a handful of charges, including contracting without a license, after he left a string of local construction jobs unfinished and spent funds at a local casino.
Mario Hernandez Serrano, 54, entered the pleas last Thursday to felony diversion of construction funds and felony tax evasion, and misdemeanor counts of contracting without a license and failing to provide workers’ compensation insurance, according to a statement released by the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office Monday.
Serrano was taken into custody in May at his Santa Barbara home after a six month investigation, the result of a joint effort by the Contractor’s State Licensing Board, the state Franchise Tax Board and Santa Barbara County District Attorney investigators.
Deputy District Attorney Gary Gemberling told Noozhawk in May that Serrano had been working in the area for a significant amount of time, and was connected to a series of cases in Goleta in homes between Patterson and Fairview avenues.
The homeowners filed complaints about Serrano with the Contractor’s State Licensing Board, which contacted the District Attorney’s Office when Serrano took money from them and performed sub-standard work on their homes.
He then abandoned the jobs without completing the projects or refunding the homeowners’ money, according to the District Attorney's Office.
The investigation revealed that Serrano spent large sums of money taken from the homeowners at local casinos.
In addition to not having a contractor's license and not providing workers’ compensation insurance for the individuals he employed on the projects, Serrano also failed to report $174,340 in income to the Franchise Tax Board, which he earned in 2011, the statement said.
“Many times homeowners do not know what to do when something like this happens to them," Gemberling said in Monday's statement. "They often feel confused and taken advantage of, and are usually left with an unfinished project.”
Receiving payment to perform construction work and then walking away without completing the project is a crime, said District Attorney Joyce Dudley, and any homeowners who think they may be victims of this type of crime should contact their local law enforcement agency and the Contractor’s State Licensing Board at www.cslb.ca.gov or 1-800-321-CSLB (2752).