YAKIMA, Wash. — A Yakima-based contractor was arrested last week during a sting operation for allegedly scamming thousands of dollars from residents across Washington.
The Kittitas County Sheriff’s roster shows Antonio “Tony” Gonzalez, 39, was booked into jail on multiple charges Friday morning.
Chris Whitsett, an inspector with the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office, said the arrest happened due to community efforts.
“It was a team effort involving citizens, law enforcement, prosecutors, and the press, based on or with the assistance of the additional investigative information that we were able to gather here in Kittitas County. With that additional information, we provided that back to the Yakima County prosecutor’s office and they were able to issue a warrant for Mr. Gonzalez,” Whitsett said. “That was for multiple charges of first-degree theft, criminal impersonation, second-degree theft, and attempted first and second-degree theft.”
Jim Palzer with the Mineral Springs Resort in Cle Elum was a key part of the operation leading to Gonzalez’s arrest.
Palzer had originally reached out to Gonzalez in January for help renovating a restaurant after seeing his ad on Craigslist.
They began messaging back and forth but Palzer, who has “been in development, property management, construction and brokerage for almost my entire life,” quickly became suspicious.
Gonzalez was refusing to create a formal bid and instead wanted a check for half of the payment written directly in his name. He also listed himself as the owner of multiple companies that the State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) did not confirm.
That’s when Palzer came across previous media coverage on Gonzalez and his alleged scams involving victims from Tri-Cities, Yakima, Seattle, Everett, Olympia, and more.
“I asked for the prosecutor attorney’s phone number and then also spoke with the Yakima County system prosecuting attorney and explained to them what was going on,” Palzer said. “They said, ‘you’re kidding.’”
L&I had already cited Gonzalez with 30 civil infractions “from last July through January — 13 for performing or offering to perform construction while unregistered,10 for falsely using another contractor’s registration, and seven for plumbing and electrical-related violations. The infractions carry fines totaling more than $110,000,” a news release said.
According to Palzer, the prosecuting attorney reached back out with an idea — to meet up with Gonzalez while wearing a wire.
From there, things moved quickly.
Palzer and Gonzalez met up at the Mineral Springs resort on Wednesday, with two undercover detectives posing as construction laborers in the building, to discuss blueprints and negotiate bids.
After Gonzalez left, the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office was presented with the wire the next morning.
“On Thursday evening, they signed an arrest warrant. They called me and asked me if I’d be willing to go back Friday to meet with Antonio again so that he could be arrested,” Palzer said. “I live over near Bellevue, Washington. So it’s about an hour and 30-minute drive for me each way and I was happy to do that.”
That Friday morning, Palzer, along with multiple officers from the YCSO, met up with Gonzalez again at the resort where he was promptly taken into custody.
“I was upset because he was trying to take advantage of me and I knew it,” Palzer said. “I felt that the right thing was to help the prosecuting attorney’s office arrest Antonio if there was anything I could do to help them because I just felt so bad for the other people that have lost money and didn’t want to see Antonio continuing down that road stealing money from even more people.”
Records show Gonzalez posted a $100,000 bail Friday night but he will still face trial.
“Well, people often get really frustrated when someone posts bail and gets out and they think well, that’s the end of the process. But it’s really not. The arrest is only the beginning of the process. We want to assure everyone that when Mr. Gonzalez or anyone else who’s arrested, post bail, they still are accountable,” Whitsett said. “They’re still charged, they still face trial, and what we anticipate is that this trial, which is going to stand on good evidence, will result in convictions in criminal convictions against Mr. Gonzales.”
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