Criminal contractor has long record
I was referred by my neighbor to this contractor, Tevita "David" Ungounga. I contracted him for some work at my residence. I had a contract written and he performed the work. Because of this, I asked him to perform additional work. This time, he asked for a down payment for materials, which I gave based on his prior performance. That was three months ago. To date, I have not seen or heard from him. When I spoke to a mutual friend, he forwarded me your Kokua Line article
. Needless to say, I'm angry and feel duped after reading your article. What can I do to get my money back? Or better yet, can we prosecute him?
Answer: If it's the same Tevita Ungounga, the man has been prosecuted and ordered to serve a jail term, placed on probation, fined and ordered to pay thousands of dollars in restitution.
We first wrote about the unlicensed contractor in 2002 and last reported on numerous complaints against him in the column you cite.
Back then, based on a case dating to 2003, he was ordered to pay $65,000 in a civil judgment filed by the state's Regulated Industries Complaints Office, indicted for failing to pay general excise taxes on contracting work he was paid for; sentenced to one year of probation; ordered to serve 60 days in jail, on consecutive weekends; and ordered to pay nearly $41,000 in restitution and fines.
The jail time, probation and restitution were related to the tax evasion charge.
On Jan. 31 of this year, RICO obtained another judgment against him, based in part on information received after our column ran, said Jo Ann Uchida, RICO's complaints officer.
The judgment provides for a civil penalty of $100,000, a permanent injunction from engaging in unlicensed contracting activity, and restitution in the amount of $5,000, she said.
The restitution payment was made to Gregory and Daphne Fields, who provided the kind of "quality" information that allowed RICO to make a case against Ungounga, Uchida said.
However, as of last week, he had not paid any part of the fine, Uchida said.
RICO has not received any complaints against Ungounga since January, so you're advised to call the office at 587-3222 to provide information relating to any contracting activity.
"We would certainly be interested if there were evidence of unlicensed activity even in '07," she said.
In 2007, "We did ask the court for criminal contempt (against Ungounga), which would have involved jail time, but the court felt that the circumstances didn't warrant criminal contempt findings," she said.
Essentially, the court felt the case was a civil matter, which resulted in the fines and injunction against performing any unlicensed contracting activity.
Uchida pointed out that unlicensed activity is classified a misdemeanor.
She declined to say what further action might be taken against Ungounga if it's found that he is continuing to operate in the community.
In general, "When it's clear we can paper our wall with (civil) judgments and the (contractor) won't stop, we would ask for criminal law enforcement to step in," she said. "We essentially have to build a case, then make the argument that we've done everything we can on the civil side and maybe now it's time to look at criminal law enforcement activity."
Uchida warned consumers to do some checking before hiring someone to do any kind of work.
"Your article helped a lot last year in terms of getting the word out, but people need to be reminded," she told us.
TIPS FOR CONSUMERS
» Hire a licensed contractor. Check on licenses and complaints by calling 587-3222 or go online at www.hawaii.gov/dcca/areas/rico/business online/.
» Set your budget in advance and keep some in reserve to pay for changes or unanticipated costs.
» Shop around, getting at least three bids or estimates. If the bids vary significantly, ask why.
» Ask for references. Call trade organizations or ask friends or relatives for referrals. Ask to see other projects the contractor has completed and meet other clients.
» Insist on a written contract, which should include the contractor's license number, price, start and stop date, work to be performed and materials to be used. Get any promises, guarantees or warranties in writing.
» Make sure your project complies with city and county codes. If a building permit is required, ask the contractor who will be responsible for the permits.
» Monitor the job and keep good records. Make sure any change orders are in writing.
» Pay as you go. Set a payment schedule that follows the amount of work completed and avoid paying all of the money up front.
» Know who your subcontractors are and avoid liens. Request partial lien releases for partial payments and a final lien release for final payments. Make sure a notice of completion is published in a newspaper.
» Do a thorough walk-through and take care of any "punch list" items immediately.
Source: Regulated Industries Complaints Office
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