South Carolina Attorney General Wilson sending possible price gouging cases to local solicitors for investigation
(STL.News) – South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson has assigned potential price gouging cases to local solicitors around the state so their offices can review them and assign them to local law enforcement to investigate as needed and then possibly prosecute.
“We’ve received more than 650 complaints since the Governor declared a state of emergency on March 13th and we’ve been going through those complaints to find ones that could meet our state law’s definition of price gouging,” Attorney General Wilson said. “We want to get moving on these as soon as possible to get the word out that we are investigating these price gouging complaints and will prosecute the businesses and individuals that violate the law.”
Violating the state price gouging law is a misdemeanor and is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, 30 days in jail, or both.
During other states of emergency, the Attorney General’s Office has waited until after the emergency is over to have local law enforcement investigate price gouging complaints. That way, law enforcement is free during the emergency to handle evacuations, traffic control, and other emergency functions. However, this emergency differs because it’s been for a prolonged period of time and law enforcement is not having to carry out the functions it usually does during hurricanes or floods. Therefore, Attorney General Wilson has assigned these complaints to the solicitors while the state of emergency is still in place.
Attorney General Wilson has assigned a Senior Assistant Attorney General to assist the solicitors as they review and possibly prosecute price gouging cases.
South Carolina law (S.C. Code Section 39-5-145(A)(5)(a)) defines price gouging as an “unconscionable price” and defines that as “a gross disparity between the price” being charged and “the average price … in the usual course of business during the thirty days immediately before the declaration of a state of emergency,” as long as the increase is not caused by additional costs incurred or local, regional, national, or international market trends. In other words, under state law, normal market fluctuations caused by changes in supply and demand are not price gouging.
Of the more than 650 complaints logged, the most common are: sanitizer, including sanitizing wipes, sanitizing hand gels, and cleaning sprays; toilet paper; face masks; and food, especially meat and eggs.
The Attorney General’s Office encourages everyone to continue to report potential price gouging cases when they see them. To report them, you can email them to email@example.com, go to our website at www.scag.gov and click on the “Price Gouging Information” at the top of the page, or you can call (803)737-3953 and leave a voice message.