Illegal and unscrupulous landscape contractors in Arizona continue to operate with impunity, casting those who are ethical in a bad light. The law is part of the problem. Illegal contracting in the state is a misdemeanor, with a maximum $2,500 fine. That doesn’t change, even after someone racks up numerous convictions.

Yet people who are repeatedly convicted of other misdemeanors, such as shoplifting or driving under the influence, get treated much more harshly. They often find themselves facing felony charges.

Other states are tougher on contractors who keep getting into trouble. California and Nevada, for instance, have escalating penalty systems. In both states, a third offense is considered a felony, and those convicted can face fines up to $10,000.

One Tucson resident, Guadalupe “Lupe” Cardenas, 72, has five criminal convictions for illegal contracting under his belt. Despite that, his two companies, Lupe & Sons Landscaping and Lupe’s Organic Landscaping, are still somehow getting business.

His services were engaged earlier this year for what was supposed to be a $5,800 landscape project. After receiving half the money, he left before finishing the job, leaving a ripped-up yard and damaged electrical lines behind him, the aggrieved homeowner alleged in a formal complaint to the state’s contracting regulator.

The Pima County attorney is currently reviewing the case, and Cardenas may find himself in court a sixth time. But even if he’s convicted, it could be years before the homeowner gets any of that money back.

Deputy County Attorney Mark Hotchkiss said this type of offender typically takes a long time to pay court-ordered restitution. He still owes his last three victims around $24,000, and has only paid out about $4,800 over the past few years.

And victims are often stuck paying out even more money to fix the botched work. Fire and flood victims and the elderly are frequent targets. “People take these kinds of crimes pretty personally,” said Hotchkiss. “And I don’t blame them; I would, too.” But, he added, chronic offenders have little incentive to change their ways under current state law.