Five men were nabbed during an undercover sting in Banning targeting unlicensed contractors attempting to bid on home repairs connected to summer wildfires in the San Gorgonio Pass, authorities said today.

The Contractors State License Board conducted the operation on Thursday and arrested John Gutierrez Flores of Moreno Valley, Angel Arcega Granados of Riverside, Kenneth James McAfee of Banning, Daniel Perez Munguia of Banning and Bert Stidham of Banning. During the sting, an agent posing as a property owner asked contractors to submit bids on work valued at more than $500. Under state law, anyone doing a job for a sum in excess of that amount must be licensed.  

According to the CSLB, the five Riverside County suspects were among 75 people arrested during sting operations throughout the state. Among those taken into custody were two registered sex offenders, two convicted felons whose crimes included burglary and robbery, as well as three people with active warrants. ``Homeowners should be nervous when they hear the background of some of the people we caught in these stings,'' CSLB Registrar Steve Sands said. ``Unlicensed, illegal activity that puts homeowners at risk and legitimate contractors at a competitive disadvantage will not be tolerated.''   According to the CSLB, the Banning sting was to ferret out suspected license violators seeking to do home repair jobs related to the August Silver Fire, which blackened more than 20,000 acres on both sides of state Route 243 and damaged or destroyed 51 homes and other structures.  

The five men were all booked on suspicion of contracting without a license. McAfee, Munguia and Stidham were additionally arrested for alleged illegal advertising. They were released from custody and ordered to appear before Riverside County Superior Court in December, according to the CSLB.   The misdemeanor charges carry maximum penalties of six months in jail and fines totaling $5,000.  Officials reminded people planning to hire a contractor for residential or commercial work to keep the following in mind:

   -- any contracting job valued at more than $500 requires a license;

   -- unlicensed contractors can perform work that's less than $500, but they must disclose that they're not licensed in ads, according to state law;    

   -- before anyone hires a contractor, they should verify the person's license via the CSLB's website, www.checkthelicensefirst.com;

   -- obtain at least three bids; and

   -- never pay more than 10 percent of the total estimated cost of a job, or $1,000, whichever is less.