Re­ports of ‘rep­re­hen­si­ble’ price goug­ing on rise

Austin American-Statesman - - HURRICANE HARVEY - By Bob Sech­ler bsech­ler@statesman.com Amer­i­can-Statesman staffer James Gregg con­trib­uted to this re­port. Con­tact Bob Sech­ler at 512445-3645.

Heroic vol­un­teer res­cue work­ers in their own boats are among the most in­deli­ble im­ages of Hur­ri­cane Har­vey’s af­ter­math, but the wake of the storm also is spawn­ing dis­may­ing re­ports of $99 cases of wa­ter and $20 gal­lons of gaso­line.

Texas At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ken Pax­ton’s of­fice had re­ceived 684 com­plaints of price goug­ing and var­i­ous scams and of fraud­u­lent char­i­ties re­lated to Hur­ri­cane Har­vey as of Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

Most of the com­plaints “in­volve price goug­ing for bot­tled wa­ter, fuel, gro­ceries and shel­ter,” said Kayleigh Lovvorn, a spokes­woman for Pax­ton.

Price goug­ing is pun­ish­able by fines of up to $20,000 per in­ci­dent, or a penalty of $250,000 if a vic­tim is 65 or older.

Lovvorn said Pax­ton’s of­fice has is­sued nine civil in­ves­tiga­tive de­mands — mean­ing it has or­dered sus­pects to hand over doc­u­ments and other ma­te­ri­als re­gard­ing their prices — and is pre­par­ing more.

Gov. Greg Ab­bott, who was asked about the re­ports of price goug­ing dur­ing a me­dia brief­ing Wed­nes­day morn­ing in Austin on the re­cov­ery ef­forts, con­demned the crime as “rep­re­hen­si­ble” and “un-Texan” and said it won’t be tol­er­ated.

“The at­tor­ney gen­eral of Texas is tak­ing swift and ag­gres­sive ac­tion to pros­e­cute price goug­ing,” Ab­bott said. “If you are a busi­ness, you can be put out of busi­ness by the Texas at­tor­ney gen­eral if you dare try any price goug­ing.”

Lovvorn said Pax­ton’s of­fice re­ceived a com­plaint Mon­day af­ter­noon of $20-per-gal­lon gaso­line at a Hous­ton con­ve­nience store and is­sued it a civil in­ves­tiga­tive de­mand that evening.

In other in­stances, she said, “we’ve seen $3.50 for gas in Hous­ton, $8.50 for bot­tles of wa­ter and $99-caseof-wa­ter com­plaints.”

Peo­ple who sus­pect they’ve been the vic­tim of price goug­ing can re­port it in sev­eral ways, Lovvorn said. They can do so on­line at www.tex­as­at­tor­ney­gen­eral.gov/cpd/file-a-con­sumer-com­plaint, or they can email Pax­ton’s of­fice at con­sumere­mer­gency@oag.texas.gov.

They also can call the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s hot­line at 800621-0508 or 512-475-4413.

Av­er­age re­tail prices for gaso­line in Texas have climbed in the af­ter­math of the storm, ac­cord­ing to auto club AAA, but not by huge amounts.

In Hous­ton, the av­er­age price for reg­u­lar un­leaded gaso­line was $2.17 a gal­lon on Wed­nes­day, the auto club re­ported in its daily sur­veys, com­pared with $2.16 Tues­day and $2.12 a week ago.

The av­er­age price was about $2.19 a gal­lon in the Austin-San Mar­cos area, up from $2.15 on Tues­day and about $2.11 a week ago.

In Dal­las, av­er­age prices climbed to about $2.32 a gal­lon Wed­nes­day, ac­cord­ing to AAA, up from $2.27 on Tues­day and about $2.15 a week ago.

The auto club’s daily sur­veys doc­u­ment av­er­age gas prices for the var­i­ous markets. In­di­vid­ual gas sta­tions set their own prices, so some charge more or less than the av­er­ages.

RI­CARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMER­I­CAN-STATESMAN

Gov. Greg Ab­bott speaks Wed­nes­day dur­ing a press brief­ing at the Depart­ment of Pub­lic Safety’s Emer­gency Com­mand Cen­ter in Austin. Ab­bott said price goug­ing won’t be tol­er­ated.

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