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Putnam Suit Alleges Mid Valley Mart inflated the price of bottled water by more than 100 percent after Elk River chemical spill.
Friday, February 14, 2014 - 11:24 Updated 3 weeks ago Special to HuntingtonNews.Net
The complaint, filed today in Putnam County Circuit Court, alleges the business, which operates both Mid Valley Mart I and Mid Valley Mart II, increased the price of bottled water by more than 100 percent after a state of emergency was declared. The complaint alleges the company kept the prices inflated for at least a week.
“Our Office worked diligently in the hours and days after the chemical spill to educate both citizens and businesses about the state's price gouging laws. At that time, we pledged to aggressively pursue any entity that artificially inflated prices to take advantage of citizens in a time of need,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “In this case, it doesn't appear that our warnings were heeded.”
The complaint alleges Mid Valley Mart LLC and its manager/owner Achraf Assi increased the price of gallon jugs of water to $3.39 on the morning of Jan. 10 at its two stores, which are located at 3706 Teays Valley Road and 2494 U.S. 60 in Hurricane. Previously, the store sold similar gallons of water for $1.59. The complaint also details one consumer who was charged more than $40 for twelve (12) 1-gallon jugs of water.
“I will not tolerate people taking advantage of our citizens during times of emergency,” Morrisey said. “If you think you can get away with breaking the law or price gouging our citizens, think again.”
On Jan. 9, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency in parts or all of nine West Virginia counties after a chemical leak resulted in at least 10,000 gallons of crude MCHM being released into the Elk River and contaminating the water supply. Under West Virginia law, it is illegal for a business to increase the price of an emergency supply or essential consumer item by more than 10 percent during a declared state or emergency and for 30 days after, whichever is longer. In this state of emergency, bottled water was deemed to be an essential consumer item because the West Virginia-American Water Co. issued a do-not-use order restricting consumers from using it for cooking, cleaning, bathing or even laundry.
“During the water crisis, West Virginians showed their true colors and did everything they could to help their neighbors. Those with access to potable water opened their homes and hearts to friends, family members and strangers so they could shower and get a warm meal. Others volunteered for hours at water distribution centers. West Virginia citizens shined during this crisis, but sadly a few bad apples didn't follow the law.” Morrisey said.
Following the state of emergency declaration, Attorney General Morrisey assembled a price gouging team within the Consumer Protection Division, as well as a team to investigate the causes and truth about the water contamination crisis. The Office also established a 24-hour tip hotline for consumers to call to report price gouging.
“As we all continue to deal with the effects of this leak, I encourage consumers to report any price gouging they may be experiencing. To date, our office has issued six investigative subpoenas and served ceased and desist letters to more than 15 entities. My office will continue to aggressively pursue and investigate instances of gouging as they arise,” Morrisey stated.
In addition to seeking injunctive relief, the complaint seeks restitution/reimbursement to consumers and fines in excess of $5,000 per violation.
A copy of the complaint, which is case number 14-C-59, may be found at http://bit.ly/1eW4jpJ.