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Contractor Admits to Bilking Elderly

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

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A Washington state contractor has pleaded guilty to one count of unregistered contracting after taking more than $37,000 from an 87-year-old woman in one month.

Stephen B. Nelson, 50, of Woodinville, WA, pleaded guilty last week in King County District Court to one count of unregistered contracting, according to the Washington State Department of Labor & Industry (L&I). The count is considered a gross misdemeanor.

Officials say Bonnie Jardine, 87, did not realize she was working with a contractor whose license had been suspended previously when she hired him 10 times in the same month. But before the woman’s son found out, she already had paid Nelson—who was doing business as American Landscaping—more than $37,000.

Judge Ketu Shah ordered Nelson to repay Jardine $31,000; undergo a drug and mental health evaluation; follow his treatment plans; and repay court costs, either directly or by community service work. If Nelson fails to follow the terms or commits additional crimes within the next two years, he will face a $5,000 fine and nearly a year in jail, L&I said.

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Stephen B. Nelson admitted that he took more than $37,000 from an 87-year-old woman for projects she did not solicit after his contractor license had been suspended.

“This case shows why it’s so important to make sure you hire a registered contractor,” said Elizabeth Smith, assistant director of L&I’s Fraud Prevention & Labor Standards. “Unregistered contractors often target senior citizens to scam, but it could happen to anyone.”

Ten Times, One Month

According to the charging documents, Jardine first hired Nelson on Feb. 1, 2013, to remove a tree and repair a chimney. Nelson then came back eight more times between Feb. 4 and Feb. 27 to do miscellaneous work on Jardine’s residence and a rental property she owns.

Jardine’s son, Daniel Jardine, then learned about the payments his mother was giving to Nelson, the charging documents indicate. Soon after, Daniel Jardine learned that Nelson was not a registered contractor and that his wife had been cashing the checks his mother wrote.

Jardine’s son told L&I his mother hadn’t sought the repairs, but that the contractor gained her sympathy by telling her he had health problems, according to the L&I investigation.

Previous Problems

The recent problems with L&I are not Nelson’s first, according to agency records. Nelson had been a registered contractor from 2009 until August 2012 when his license was suspended for unknown reasons. However, by the time his license had expired, L&I had cited and fined him more than $35,000 for safety violations discovered after one of his workers was killed by high-voltage power lines while cutting down a tree.

Nelson appealed those violations but also racked up more than $329,000 in unpaid workers’ compensation premiums, penalties and interest. He made a deal with L&I to forgo the original $35,800 under the condition that he would never perform arbor work again.

The agency also said Nelson and his business have two civil infractions for unregistered contracting in 2011 and 2013.


Tagged categories: Contractors; Contractors State License Board; Ethics; Government; Health and safety; Laws and litigation; Lawsuits; OSHA; OSHA

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