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News 10 at ABC

AUBURN, CA -- A Roseville contractor was arrested after ripping off an 87-year-old Auburn woman.

According to the Placer County district attorney, 30-year-old Leron Anthony Stephenson from Roseville bilked the elderly woman out of $13,500 for a tree removal project on her property. Stephenson cashed six checks, including four blank checks given by the victim.

Stephenson was given a one-year jail sentence and must pay back the $13,500 to the family of his victim. The elderly woman died before the defendant changed his plea to guilty in April, said prosecutor Jim Deslaurier.

Stephenson, who pleaded to theft charges and contracting without a license, was also placed on five years probation and was given a suspended prison sentence of five years and four months when sentenced May 26 in Placer County Superior Court.

The California State Licensing Board (CSLB) says to help prevent these kinds of scams, people should hire only state-licensed contractors on projects of $500 or more for labor and material.

A contractor's license number can be checked online at www.cslb.ca.gov or by calling (800) 321-2752.

More tips include:

-- Get at least three bids and three references for past work from each bidder.

-- Make sure all project expectations are in writing.

-- Only sign the contract if you completely understand all terms.

-- Do not pay more than 10 percent down or $1,000, whichever is less.

-- Do not pay in cash and do not let payments get ahead of the work.

-- By Michelle Ponto, News10