Sat | Jul 22, 2017

No charges of price gouging in SC during Hurricane Matthew

Published:Monday | January 9, 2017 | 1:00 AM
A house damaged during the passage of Hurricane Matthew in Florida on October 8, 2016.

A newspaper analysis shows the South Carolina attorney general has initiated no prosecutions involving about 400 complaints of price gouging by businesses during Hurricane Matthew.

Records obtained by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette show the office of Republican Attorney General Alan Wilson has received the complaints for the period October 4 through November 3, when the state's price-gouging law was in effect because of the storm.

Wilson's spokeswoman says the office has ongoing investigations; she declined to release any details on those cases.

Meanwhile, officials in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina say they're citing several businesses with price gouging. In one case, the Florida Attorney General's Office said it is pursuing a civil case against a franchise hotel chain that several South Carolina consumers also accused of price gouging.

Wilson's office provided some details about the complaints, such as the town where the business is located and the reported price, but the office declined to release the names and addresses of businesses being investigated. But Wilson's spokeswoman, Hayley Thrift Bledsoe, wouldn't say how many of the complaints were determined to be unsubstantiated or still under investigation. Further, she couldn't provide any examples in recent years of when the office prosecuted a business for price gouging.

Under South Carolina law, price gouging is considered a "gross disparity" between the quoted price and the average price for a good or service in the 30 days immediately prior to an official state-of-emergency declaration. But the statute doesn't define 'gross disparity.'

"The problem there is, how do we define what that means?" said Geoffrey Rapp, associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Toledo College of Law, who has written about price-gouging laws. A vague definition makes it less likely for a state to prosecute, Rapp said.

The misdemeanour charge is punishable by a maximum 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

- AP