D.A.: Businesses That Ratchet up Prices During Virus Crisis Face Penalties

Riverside County merchants who push prices exorbitantly higher as a means of exploiting consumers to turn a profit during the coronavirus upheaval can expect to pay a price themselves — in the form of criminal penalties, District Attorney Mike Hestrin said Friday.

“The District Attorney’s Office will be vigilant in protecting the public and consumers during this health crisis,” Hestrin said, noting that any form of price gouging is a potential misdemeanor offense.

Both the state and county have prohibitions against gouging. According to the law, a business that raises prices in excess of 10% on goods and services generally recognized as essential — food, fuel, shelter — during a state of emergency may be charged with price gouging.

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency on March 4, about a week before President Trump made a national emergency proclamation.

“Those who price gouge are subject to criminal prosecution that can result in a sentence of up to a year in county jail and/or fines up to $10,000,” according to a D.A.’s office statement. “There also can be civil penalties, including a fine of $5,000 per violation, restitution to the victim or victims and a court order to stop.”

No merchants within the county have been charged yet in the current state of emergency.

Anyone who suspects a business or individual of perpetrating a price scheme was urged to submit a complaint at bit.ly/2WfQNID, or directly to the California Department of Justice at oag.ca.gov/contact/consumer-complaint- against-business-or-company.

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