KSL Investigates: A Warning About Unlicensed, Illegal Contractors

Nov 19, 2019, 5:52 PM | Updated: Nov 20, 2019, 5:55 pm

PLEASANT GROVE, Utah — More than two months after Kyle Bowen began the process of remodeling a home on his newly-purchased property, he said the job quickly became a larger, unexpected repair job.

Bowen said after he closed on his new home on Sept. 18, he wanted to install some new flooring and have some painting done since some of the finishes that he felt were a bit outdated.

“I was looking around online, and I found this guy via Facebook. And anyway, he came over and gave me a bid and he was a little on the low end, but in line with some of the other people,” Bowen said. “He seemed honest, and he was prompt and responsive, so I hired him.”

The man who reached out to Bowen on Facebook was Clayton Austin Sweat, 26, of ATD Flooring and Construction. Bowen signed a contract with Sweat and his company on Sept. 20.

Bowen said he paid Sweat $14,000 and work started. Five days later, Bowen wrote another check to Sweat for $10,000.

Although the work had begun, Bowen said it was sporadic.

After investigating defective construction work performed by licensed contractors, the KSL Investigators uncovered more questionable work by an unlicensed contractor and discovered he’s been on DOPL’s radar before. Although the work had begun, Bowen said it was sporadic. Although the work had begun, Bowen said it was sporadic. Although the work had begun, Bowen said it was sporadic. Although the work had begun, Bowen said it was sporadic. Although the work had begun, Bowen said it was sporadic. Although the work had begun, Bowen said it was sporadic. Although the work had begun, Bowen said it was sporadic.

Soon, he noticed mismatched brick on the façade of the home, tire ruts through his lawn and carpet paid for — but nowhere to be found.

“Every day I came home and there didn’t seem to be really much done. One day I came home and about half of the basement flooring was finished, but that was probably the most progress I ever saw on a given day. And it continued that way,” Bowen said. “Then we started to get a little suspicious why work wasn’t happening as fast as we thought it might.”

That’s when Bowen started looking up Sweat online and said he found several surprises – including a handful of mugshots.

It turned out that Sweat was not a licensed contractor.

“When you see a contract that says here’s my contractor number, here’s my insurance policy number and at the bottom you see contractor signature, to me, that would say he’s a bona fide contractor, when in fact, he was not,” Bowen said.

The license number on that contract turned out to be the number for Sweat’s business license.

“He gave me a contract,” Bowen said. “But the number that he provided on the contract was not a contractor number even though he represented himself as one.”

In fact, the KSL Investigators discovered the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, or DOPL, had cited Sweat four times for contracting without a license and has charged him $3,800 in total fines. Fines Sweat had not paid.

“It is against the law to even advertise that you can perform construction without a contractor’s license,” said DOPL Director Mark Steinagel.

Steinagel spoke in general terms about citations the division puts in place against unlicensed contractors.

“It’s a progressive fine amount. So, the first one is $500, the second one is $1,000, and we usually don’t even go to a third one because by then we’re talking about criminal prosecution,” he said.

Sweat was referred for criminal charges across the Wasatch Front by DOPL.

DOPL referred Sweat for criminal charges in multiple cities in Utah. Those included contracting without a license, a felony charge of theft by deception and at one point, Sweat spent time in jail for violating probation on a theft charge.

Mug shot from Sept. 11, 2013. (Utah County Jail)

KSL TV obtained five mugshots for Sweat in Utah County related to that single theft charge, to which he pleaded guilty in 2013. The first mugshot corresponds to his initial booking on the charge. Four additional mugshots were taken for probation violations on that charge.

Sweat was booked into the Weber County Jail in August 2018 after a warrant was issued relating to his engaging in the construction trade without a license charge, a class B misdemeanor.

Mug shot from 2018. (Weber County Jail)

He pleaded guilty in November 2018.

Multiple small claims cases have also been filed against Sweat.

The KSL Investigators reached out to Sweat on multiple occasions seeking an on-camera interview for our story. He ultimately never made himself available, but on the phone said that while he has a history of “bad business decisions,” he never intended to take money and not do work.

Referring to Bowen’s case specifically, Sweat said he quit after conflicts with Bowen. Sweat said he’s refunded Bowen $7,500 so far and is doing what he can to refund the rest.

When asked why he didn’t obtain a contractor license, Sweat told the KSL Investigators it was a financial burden to do so, saying it is expensive.

KSL TV also verified that Sweat’s insurance policy had lapsed for non-payment.

Bowen has taken legal action and filed a small claims suit against Sweat. Bowen said he hopes others will learn from his mistakes and do their homework first.

“Unfortunately, it’s been a little bit of an expensive lesson,” he said. “I think it ultimately was probably my fault because I didn’t do as much due diligence as I should have.”

“We are in a system where both the government can do some things to help you and also, you as a consumer need to do some things to help you,” Steinagel added.

DOPL: Consumers Tips on Choosing a Licensed Contractor

According to the Utah Department of Commerce’s Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, internet bulletin boards and online classified advertisements may allow for businesses to be deceptive and DOPL officials said consumers should be aware of that.

Steinagel said the main concept is for consumers to “own their project,” in terms of making sure they hire a qualified service provider, plan their project appropriately, seek out multiple estimates and make certain those they hire are licensed to receive the protections licensing provides to the public.

Steinagel also advised consumers to monitor the work as it progresses and make sure it is in line with the signed contract.

DOPL officials suggested consumers take these steps when seeking a bid for contracting work:

  • Verify the contractor or business is actively licensed with the state of Utah
  • Always hire a licensed contractor so you can file a complaint if something goes wrong in the business transaction
  • Request three written estimates to compare
  • Check at least three references with former customers
  • Check with materials suppliers on which contractors/companies they would recommend
  • Require a written contract to protect yourself and your property against liens
  • Don’t make a large down payment; pay as work is completed
  • Monitor the job in progress
  • Don’t make the final payment until the job is completed per the terms of your contract
  • Keep copies of all paperwork related to your job

“Good contractors are going to be willing to work with you through that and those who are unable to start a project without demanding a large down payment would make me worried about their financial capability to complete the project,” Steinagel said. “The good contractors are going to be happy, happy to help you protect yourself. The ones who get very upset at you wanting to do these things, well, there’s an extra warning flag for you.”

Each year, DOPL officials complete a construction fraud sting to protect the public and penalize unlicensed contractors across Utah.

This summer’s effort was part of a national sting that resulted in 96 administrative citations and $543,000 in state fines. The three-week investigation targeted unlicensed contractors advertising online and across various social media platforms. The sting was focused on online advertising to tackle fraudulent transactions on the web, which has become increasingly common.

“The primary goal of the sting was to help the public know that we are looking out for them and to help those who want to be in the industry know that you need to come in in the legal, lawful way, and we will help you get there,” Steinagel said. “There will always be fraudsters. I don’t think we could ever create an environment where it’s so regulated that people can’t hurt the public. That’s why we exist.”

To file a complaint, verify the license of a professional or check on whether a licensee has faced disciplinary action, consumers can visit the DOPL website for more information.

More consumer information is also available on the Utah Division of Consumer Protection’s website.

For more information from the National Association of Contracting Licensing Agencies, click here.

KSL Investigates: A Building Problem Previous Coverage

New Construction Laws, Campaign Contributions, Potential Conflicts Of Interest

KSL Investigates: State Regulator Website ‘Like Early 2000s’ For Access To Information, Lacks Full Discipline Records

A Building Problem: Utah Law Loosens Licensing Requirements For General Contractors

Number Of Inspectors Isn’t Keeping Up With Home Construction In Utah

A Building Problem: Home Inspectors Aren’t Licensed in Utah

KSL 5 TV Live

KSL Investigates

(KSL TV)...

Matt Gephardt & Cimaron Neugebauer

Bountiful woman left without phone service or answers days after her husband dies

When you pay for a phone service, you expect it to work. But after being unable to make or receive calls despite reaching out to the provider multiple times to fix it – a Utah woman decided it was time to Get Gephardt.

4 days ago

Cami Johnson reported to police in 2017 that she was drugged and sexually assaulted by her ex-husba...

Daniella Rivera

Sexual assault survivor says delays in police investigation allowed perpetrator to attack a teenager

A Utah woman said delays in properly investigating her report of sexual assault allowed her perpetrator to remain free and attack a teenage girl more than a year later. The KSL Investigators examined the timeline of multiple investigations involving the same man.

4 days ago

In the moment they feel like small purchases, right? An ornament here. A stocking stuffer there. A ...

Matt Gephardt

How you can avoid holiday debt despite the pressure to spend

In the moment they feel like small purchases, right? An ornament here. A stocking stuffer there. A last-minute office gift. But all this can quickly add up to a financial holiday hangover. And perhaps it’s one you’re still feeling from the last holiday season.

5 days ago

After a yearlong fight for a copy of the Utah attorney general’s schedule, KSL’s attorneys have...

Annie Knox and Daniella Rivera

KSL files motion seeking release of AG’s calendar in public records fight

After a yearlong fight for a copy of the Utah attorney general’s schedule, KSL’s attorneys have asked a judge to order the release of the records, without the case going to trial.

5 days ago

Man's picture with details about him...

Daniella Rivera

Sandy case highlights challenges tracking sex offenders who move across state lines

The KSL Investigators have been following the case of a convicted sex offender from California who moved into a Sandy neighborhood but did not show up on Utah's registry for nearly a year. Now, we don't know where he is, but we do know he's not a resident at the latest address he gave to authorities.

6 days ago

Debra Gamero teaches a student...

Matt Gephardt

The insurance you didn’t know you needed to protect your side hustle

Having a side hustle to bring in extra cash requires determination and hard work. But if you do it without the right insurance policy, you might find an unexpected event could blow up your side hustle along with your finances.

12 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

Design mockup half in white and half in color of luxury house interior with open plan living room a...

Lighting Design

Lighting Design 101: Learn the Basics

These lighting design basics will help you when designing your home, so you can meet both practical and aesthetic needs.

an antler with large horns int he wilderness...

Three Bear Lodge

Yellowstone in the Fall: A Wildlife Spectacle Worth Witnessing

While most people travel to this park in the summer, late fall in Yellowstone provides a wealth of highlights to make a memorable experience.

a diverse group of students raising their hands in a classroom...

Little Orchard Preschool

6 Benefits of Preschool for Kids

Some of the benefits of preschool for kids include developing independence, curiosity, and learning more about the world.

KSL Investigates: A Warning About Unlicensed, Illegal Contractors