(Originally published July 13, 2015)
PORTLAND, Ore.— The advertisement appears in the newspaper classifieds. It's there almost every day. The landscaping maintenance company says it does "major yard clean-ups, weeding, trim, bark, river rock" and more. Credit cards are accepted.
A KGW investigation found the owner of Oscar & Sons has history of fraud. He left customers disappointed. Workers never got their paychecks. And government agencies haven't been able to collect judgments, penalties or fines.
"Nobody likes to get ripped off and we were ripped off," said Harold Peterson of Gladstone. The homeowner hired Oscar & Sons to build a deck and patio in March 2013 but the work was never completed.
"It dragged on for about four months," said Peterson. "It was a mess."
The Oregon Landscape Contractors Board found that the owner of Oscar & Sons, Oscar Urrutia, had been operating without a landscaping license. He was fined $2,000. According to the state board, Urrutia still hasn't paid the civil penalty.
He hasn't paid a lot of workers, either.
Celso Sarabia Lopez worked for Oscar & Sons in May 2010. The 49 year old helped clear an overgrown lot in Washington County. He said he worked 12 hours a day, six days a week, cutting back trees and moving brush. After two weeks on the job, he never got a paycheck.
"It affected me a lot because I had to pay for food. I had to pay bills," said Sarabia Lopez. "And there wasn't any money."
Over the past decade, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries has received wage claims from nine different Oscar & Sons employees.
BOLI found Urrutia owed four of those workers a combined $26,374. But the state couldn't collect. In March 2013, Urrutia filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Several former employees continued to go after Urrutia for unpaid wages.
"This is a situation where a guy has a plan and he is deliberately going out and cheating people by committing fraud," said attorney Michael Dale of the Northwest Workers' Justice Project.
Dale represented four former Oscar & Sons employees, but he figures there could be more unpaid workers.
In a May 2014 bankruptcy court hearing, Judge Elizabeth Perris ordered that Urrutia should still have to pay his former workers.
"I've found a fraud. I found there's a wrongful act," said U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth Perris in transcripts from the hearing. "I found that it was done intentionally."
But the workers are still waiting to get their money and so is the state of Oregon.
"He appears to feel that he is immune from any kind of sanction and the law doesn't reach him," said Dale, the attorney representing the unpaid workers.
Records from the Oregon Secretary of State show Oscar & Sons hasn't had a valid business license since 2005.
When contacted by phone, Urrutia declined to comment and hung up.
Oscar & Sons is still advertising in the newspaper classifieds. The landscaping maintenance company says it can help clean up. But instead, Oscar Urrutia is the one making the mess.