Tampa contractor racks up unlicensed work convictions
Antoinette smith says she hired Tampa-based Alfredo Santiago to build kitchen cabinets and countertops in her Lutz home based on another contractor’s recommendation, but he never completed the job. She paid a $2,000 deposit, half the total, and then the excuses began, she says. “He ran straight to my bank and cashed the check that day, but I couldn’t get him to come back for months,” Smith says. “He kept having excuses not to do the job, but he kept my money.”
Tampa-area regulators say her case follows a decade-long string of complaints of work never started, incomplete jobs and unlicensed contracting criminal convictions. Kevin Jackson, chief investigator for Hillsborough County Contractor Licensing, says he wouldn’t be surprised to receive more complaints. “As far as I know, he’s still in business,” Jackson says.
Santiago is serving a 12-month probation sentence he received last October, along with an order to pay $11,500 restitution to St. Petersburg resident Maria Tristancho, after a Pinellas County court found him guilty of a misdemeanor count of unlicensed contracting for a job in which he accepted a deposit but never completed the work, court records say. Records also indicate he hasn’t yet paid any of the restitution.
Jackson says his office began receiving complaints about Santiago 10 years ago, under the names Kitchen and Bath Boutique in Tampa, Riverview-based AES & Associates, Tampa-based VanHousen Group and Oldsmar-based Fine Cabinetry. “He knows what he can get away with and leaves a trail of dissatisfaction without having to pay too heavy a price,” Jackson says. Since Hillsborough County licensing regulations don’t cover the scope of work Santiago performs, Jackson says his office will mediate when homeowners request it, but can’t bring criminal charges. “We’ve had some success in getting him to come back and give some money on occasion,” he says.
Jackson says homeowners seeking further satisfaction in such instances need to pursue cases in civil court. Smith sued him in Hillsborough County Court and won a $2,000 default judgment in November when Santiago failed to appear, according to court records. But Smith says she still hasn’t received any payments. “I don’t expect I’m ever going to see the money,” she says. “He’s what my dad called a flimflam man.”
Pasco County court records indicate that Dade City residents Betty Grigoletto and Luis Sevillano sued Santiago in August when they alleged that he failed to complete work after they paid in advance for a kitchen renovation on a Land O’ Lakes home. They received a $5,500 judgment in their favor in November when Santiago failed to appear in court, court records say. Records also indicate Santiago hasn’t paid that judgment either.
In Pinellas County, local ordinances require licensing for kitchen cabinetry work, which allows regulators to pursue criminal charges, according to Pinellas County Office of Consumer Protection chief investigator Doug Templeton. He says courts there convicted Santiago four times of criminal unlicensed contracting since 2004.
Since Santiago restricts his work to what county ordinance defines as “specialty contractor” jobs — smaller jobs such as cabinets and countertops, rather than broader general contracting — Templeton says county authorities can only file misdemeanor charges of unlicensed contracting rather than felonies.
Santiago told Angie’s List Magazine he no longer works in the kitchen contracting business and referred all other questions to his lawyer, who hasn’t responded to requests for comment.