William Strader first got in trouble with the state seven years ago for working as a building contractor without a license. He stayed in the contracting business, and now the former Rochester man faces an $89,500 fine for an abandoned renovation project and an arrest warrant if he returns to Minnesota.
In February, Strader received the state Department of Labor and Industry’s largest contractor penalty since 2012, when the department fined luxury homebuilder Keith Waters and his company a combined $100,000.
In an interview with Whistleblower on Friday, Strader said he intends to pay back those who complained about him after he sells his home in Rochester. Strader says he will no longer live in the state and will no longer do contracting work.
“I don’t think I’m a bad man,” Strader said. “Have I have done bad things? Yes, but I didn’t mean for any of this to happen to anyone.”
The action against Strader is one of at least 22 orders issued by the state so far this year in its battle to stop unlicensed contractors, who often lure clients with low prices but leave little recourse if they fail to deliver.
Charlie Durenberger, the department’s contractor licensing enforcement director, said Strader repeatedly ignored the state’s licensing requirements. But Strader said he did not think he needed a license because he hired a licensed contractor to oversee the subcontractors. The homeowners paid Strader directly, and Strader admitted that made him a contractor under the law.
“My only mistake was that I cut the checks, not the licensed contractor,” Strader said.
Durenberger said the department considered Strader’s past when issuing the steep fine, compared to the average fine of $250 to $1,000.
The department of labor first encountered Strader in 2007 when it received a tip that Strader was offering to perform work in the Rochester area. The department issued a cease-and-desist order without a fine, and Strader agreed to stop doing unlicensed work.
Then in 2012, the department received a complaint saying Strader performed building, electrical and plumbing work and was overcharging the homeowner. The department issued another cease-and-desist order, but Strader fought the allegations. The case settled in February 2013 and the state imposed a $10,000 penalty, but only required Strader to pay $500.
The department also contacted the Rochester Police Department. In April 2013, the Olmsted County attorney charged Strader with a gross misdemeanor for engaging in unlicensed activity. Strader pleaded not guilty, but failed to show up to a hearing in November. A warrant has been issued for his arrest.
The department received a third complaint in December from Bobbi Luke, a Rochester homeowner. She paid Strader, her former landlord, $17,000 she had obtained through a state-backed home improvement loan and from a loan from her mother. Strader was supposed to fix plumbing, electrical, trim work and tile work, but stopped showing up after he got paid, Luke said in an interview.
“We’ve issued two cease-and-desist orders and to have to do a third one, it made it much more reprehensible,” Durenberger said. “He knew darn well he should not be doing this.”
Strader said that “ultimately it is my responsibility. I am going to try to come to terms with this.”