RICO Overview/Services

A description of RICO’s mission with links to key services

The Regulated Industries Complaints Office (RICO) is a division of the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA) and is the enforcement arm of over forty-five professional boards, commissions and programs that are administratively attached to the department. RICO receives, investigates and prosecutes possible license violations, including unlicensed activity. RICO also administers the State Certified Arbitration Program (SCAP)- Lemon vehicles program for “lemon” motor vehicle claims. RICO has offices in Honolulu, Hilo, Kona, Wailuku and Lihue and its staff includes investigators, attorneys and clerical support.

What kind of complaints does RICO handle?

In a nutshell, RICO investigates complaints that allege possible licensing violations. Licensing violations vary depending upon the particular license, but include allegations such as professional misconduct, misrepresentation, poor workmanship, substance abuse, or operating without a required license. RICO receives complaints from a wide variety of sources, including consumers, boards, other law enforcement agencies, other state boards, businesses, competitors, and licensees.

Because RICO’s investigations focus on possible licensing violations, some complaints involving licensees are outside the scope of RICO’s investigative authority and are not investigated by RICO.

RICO also administers the State Certified Arbitration Program (SCAP), commonly referred to as the “Lemon Law” program. Information about the program and how to file a SCAP complaint is available at http://cca.hawaii.gov/rico/scap_llaw.

How are RICO complaints handled?

Consumers are their own best advocates when dealing with any business dispute. Our office has found that in a surprising number of cases, disputes can be resolved once the parties start communicating with each other. As such, RICO’s website and complaint forms include a self-help letter template that is designed to help consumers draft a basic letter of complaint. In addition, consumers are asked to use the self-help letter to resolve problems before actually filing a complaint.

If a dispute is not resolved directly between the parties, a complaint may be filed with RICO’s Consumer Resource Center (CRC). CRC serves as a “one stop shop” for people who have a question about DCCA or who wish to file a complaint. CRC receives complaints for both RICO and the Office of Consumer Protection (OCP). Please read our Frequently Asked Questions to understand how RICO can help with a complaint.

When a complaint is received, CRC intake investigators review the complaint to determine if the complaint involves a person or entity within RICO’s jurisdiction and if the complaint involves a possible licensing violation. In some cases, the intake investigator will call the complainant for more information or more documentation to determine if there is sufficient cause to investigate. If the investigator determines that there is cause to investigate a possible licensing violation, the complaint is referred to RICO’s other enforcement branches for further investigation or prosecution.

If the intake investigator determines that further investigation of the complaint is not called for, the investigator will notify the complainant of the outcome of the complaint and the complaint is closed at that time. There are a variety of reasons a complaint may be closed at intake, such as where the complaint is referred to another agency for investigation or prosecution, the complaint was resolved after the complaint was filed, the complainant changed his or her mind and withdrew the complaint or is no longer locatable, or the complaint did not set forth a licensing violation or provide sufficient information to determine a possible licensing violation.

If the intake investigator determines that the particular controversy stems from a communication problem or determines that an explanation from the respondent may assist the consumer, the investigator may solicit an explanation or response from the respondent. In some cases, the response is sufficient to resolve the complaint without a formal investigation.

RICO successfully resolves over 40% of the complaints it receives at the intake level. The remainder are referred to RICO’s field investigation or legal branch for further review and/or prosecution.

If a case is referred for further investigation, RICO field investigators conduct interviews, obtain relevant records and consult with experts to determine if there is sufficient evidence of one or more violations to warrant legal action. RICO has field investigation units in Kona and Hilo and on the islands of Kauai, Maui and Oahu. Investigations include licensing violations that may be committed by licensees, as well as violations committed by businesses or individuals who do not hold a required professional license (i.e., unlicensed activity). If there is sufficient evidence of a violation to warrant legal action, the case will be referred to RICO’s legal branch for prosecution by RICO staff attorneys. If, in the course of investigation, it is determined that legal action is not warranted, the complaint is closed at the field investigations level. There are many reasons that a complaint may not warrant legal action, such as where a warning letter is issued instead of formal action, where the complainant withdraws the complaint, where the parties resolve the dispute, or where the investigation establishes that there is no violation.

Cases that are referred to the legal branch for prosecution are evaluated by RICO’s Staff Attorneys for possible legal action. In general, legal actions are either filed as board disciplinary actions (where the violation involves a person or entity that holds a license), or filed at state circuit court (where the violation involves unlicensed activity). If the legal action results in disciplinary action, a wide variety of sanctions may be imposed, including but not limited to license revocation, suspension or restriction, monetary fines, restitution, professional evaluation and education, and testing and treatment. If the legal action results in a finding of unlicensed activity, the court may issue an injunction and impose penalties and restitution.

For more information about how complaints are handled, please feel free to contact RICO at 808-587-4272 or at RICO@dcca.hawaii.gov.

What other services are provided by RICO?

Lemon Law Program . RICO administers the State Certified Arbitration Program (SCAP), commonly referred to as the “Lemon Law” program. The Hawaii “Lemon Law” helps consumers who buy or lease new motor vehicles and have repeated problems in getting their vehicles repaired under the manufacturer’s warranty. SCAP provides the consumer with an arbitration process to resolve a Lemon Law dispute with a manufacturer. For more information about the program, go to our SCAP webpage ( http://cca.hawaii.gov/rico/scap_llaw ).

Public Education. RICO provides a number of consumer brochures about the licensed professions that are available through its website at www.hawaii.gov/dcca/rico or by calling 587-4272. The RICO website also contains links to general consumer tips and other resources outside of DCCA, and a link to complaints history information for both RICO and OCP. Staff at RICO’s Consumer Resource Center (CRC) (587-4272) answers general questions and provides information about licensing, complaints history and business registration.

Complaints History. Complaints information is maintained by RICO on a database that it shares with the Office of Consumer Protection. As a service to the public, RICO provides information from the database to the public by telephone, in writing, and most recently, in the form of a searchable public complaints history website at www.businesscheck.hawaii.gov. This website includes complaints from both RICO and OCP and provides a summary, by respondent, of the nature of the complaints filed and their outcomes.

The complaints history report includes both pending and closed investigations, although no information about pending investigations is included in the complaints history report except case numbers. For RICO cases, complaints that were resolved or closed at the intake level are generally excluded from the report. RICO complaints in which five or more years have passed from the year of final outcome are not included in the report, unless the respondent has not complied with the outcome.

In order to make the complaints history information as simple and as comprehensive as possible for the user, OCP complaints, RICO licensee complaints, and RICO unlicensed activity complaints are all housed and accessed from one database. In addition, the public database includes those complaints with case outcomes that resulted in legal action as well as complaints in which no legal action was taken.

Please note that although the public report satisfies the vast majority of public requests for complaints information, the public complaints history report is not, and should not be construed as responsive to a request for records pursuant to the state’s Uniform Information Practices Act, Chapter 92F, Hawaii Revised Statutes. Chapter 92F requests may be made to RICO by contacting the office at 235 S. Beretania Street, 9th Floor, Honolulu, Hawaii 96813, Attention: Consumer Projects Attorney.