SARASOTA, Fla. — The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office has slapped handcuffs on 16 men in an undercover operation targeting unlicensed contractors.

The sheriff’s office recently teamed up with the Sarasota County Building Department, the Florida Department of Financial Services Division of Insurance Fraud and the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) for the three-day sting, dubbed “Operation Freelancer VIII.”

The departments set up in a Sarasota home and put out cold calls to receive estimates for various repairs. As subjects arrived at the residence, their information was checked against the DBPR database to verify whether they were licensed, registered as a contractor and had the proper workers compensation coverage or exemption to perform the proposed work.

A total of 16 men were arrested, including 16 felony charges and 32 misdemeanor charges. The sheriff’s office noted that one of the individuals is a convicted felon with dozens of prior charges, including burglary and vehicle theft.

“Maintenance operations like these should be a good reminder for consumers to always seek licensed contractors to perform work on their homes or businesses,” said Sheriff Tom Knight. “Consumers are exposing themselves to financial and physical risk by allowing these people to enter their home, unlicensed, and in some cases, with criminal histories.

“Not only does this illegal activity pose a threat to consumers, but it also directly effects legitimate business owners operating within the parameters of the law.”

In Florida, a first offense usually results in a civil citation, but subsequent violations lead to misdemeanor or felony criminal charges.

“With the help of our local law enforcement partners, DBPR is committed to removing unlicensed contractors and giving our citizens the confidence that the construction work will be done honestly and according to professional standards,” said DBPR Secretary Halsey Beshears.