RICO Overview/Services

The Regulated Industries Complaints Office (“RICO”) is a division of the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA) and enforces the licensing laws for the various professional boards, commissions and programs that are administratively attached to the Department. RICO receives, investigates and prosecutes complaints about possible licensing law violations.  RICO also receives, investigates, and prosecutes complaints about possible unlicensed activity. In addition to complaints, RICO staff-initiates cases based on tip information, information from law enforcement agencies, information from professional organizations, insurance reporting, media reports and the like.

RICO’s partner agency, the Professional and Vocational Licensing Division, accepts applications and issues licenses for the various licensing boards, commissions, and programs.

RICO also administers the State Certified Arbitration Program (SCAP) – Lemon vehicles program for “lemon” motor vehicle claims.

How are cases initiated?

RICO investigates complaints received from consumers, from licensing boards, commissions and programs, and from anonymous sources.  RICO also initiates cases based on referrals from other law enforcement agencies and professional associations.  Occasionally, matters are reported by hospitals and employers.  RICO also conducts compliance checks, and sweep and sting operations.  Most RICO cases are initiated from consumer complaints.

What kind of complaints does RICO investigate? 

Some of the more typical complaints RICO investigates involve allegations of poor workmanship, negligence, or unlicensed activity.  Less frequently, RICO investigates conduct involving sexual contact with patients or clients, criminal convictions, and misappropriation of funds.  Some things, even if proven true, may not constitute grounds for discipline. For example, concerns that a patient has been made to wait a long time at a doctor’s office, or that a licensee has charged a lot of money for a particular service, are not usually within the licensing authority’s jurisdiction.  Other conduct, although egregious, may be criminal in nature and not specifically addressed by licensing laws.

How are RICO complaints handled?

Consumers complete a RICO complaint form. Forms are available online or from a RICO office.

We believe consumers are their own best advocates when dealing with any dispute, and as part of the complaint filing process, consumers are encouraged to try to resolve problems before filing a complaint and RICO provides a self-help letter template for consumers to use.  Even after a written complaint is received, an intake investigator may continue to work with the parties if he/she believes a dispute can be resolved.  Frequently, an intake investigator will simply solicit an explanation or response from a licensee, and in many cases, the response is sufficient to resolve the problem without formal investigation.

If a dispute is not resolved directly between parties, an intake investigator conducts a preliminary investigation to determine if the complaint involves a person or business within RICO’s jurisdiction and if the complaint involves a possible licensing violation.

CRC receives complaints for both RICO and the Office of Consumer Protection (OCP). Please read our Frequently Asked Questions fore more, in depth information.

There are a number 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.