Whitesburg KY

Hoarders, gougers are warned

With hoarders and profiteers grabbing everything from the grocery shelves, Gov. Andy Beshear has renewed an executive order that will allow Attorney General Daniel Cameron to prosecute those who are price gouging during the COVID-19 emergency.

Cameron’s office said that as of close of business Monday, it had received 860 complaints of price gouging statewide, 138 of which are in eastern Kentucky.

So far, most grocery shelves here seem well stocked, but items such as bread, meat, milk, toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer, bleach and hand soap are disappearing almost as quickly as they can be replaced.

Some stores have placed limits on the number of such items that shoppers can buy, but in online yard sales and flea markets, toilet paper is showing up for sale by the case, and at prices ranging from $30 a case to $6 per roll. Hand sanitizer is listed for anywhere from $15 to $65 a bottle.

Cameron asked Beshear on Sunday to renew the executive order activating the state’s price gouging law that was issued March 7. Cameron asked in his letter that the governor issue another executive order for a period of up to 15 days. Beshear did so the same day.

“Inasmuch as the COVID 19 threat has not abated in the intervening period, I request that you renew this Executive Order so that my office may continue to pursue and prosecute persons suspected of price gouging during these challenging times for the Commonwealth and nation,” Cameron wrote.

State law only allows the order to be in place for 15 days, and to be renewed three times.

Under Kentucky’s price gouging law, anyone who is found to be selling items “grossly in excess of the price prior to the declaration” of an emergency is subject to a $25,000 fine. Prices that are more than 10 percent above the pre-emergency price are considered “grossly in excess.”

Some of the items listed on Facebook “for sale” sites are obviously there for comedic effect — some list toilet paper “slightly used” — while some are deadly serious.

A West Liberty man who runs many of the for-sale sites in eastern Kentucky has posted a message at the top of each of his pages informing aspiring profiteers that he “will not allow anyone on this group to commit price gouging for toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer or disinfectant, and cleaning products during the coronavirus pandemic.”

Roger Hicks, a retired state mental health therapist and auctioneer, said he runs for-sale pages across the eastern end of the state and will not tolerate anyone who attempts to price gouge.

“I have had reports of several people selling items, and I just flatly delete, block and ban every one of them,” Hicks said in a telephone interview.

Hicks said he lives about 30 miles from Prestonsburg, Jackson, Morehead and Paintsville, and has seen price gouging in stores as well as online. He chuckled at the thought of two Tennessee men who got caught hoarding more than 17,000 bottles of hand sanitizer with the intention of selling it at inflated prices after buying it in stores all over their own state and Kentucky. In the end, after attorneys general in Kentucky and Tennessee announced an investigation, the men donated two-thirds to churches in Tennessee for distribution. The other third was taken by the Tennessee Attorney General and sent to Cameron’s office.

“Those boys lost a lot of money,” Hicks said.

Elizabeth Puhn, a spokeswoman for Cameron, said the hand sanitizer that went there was distributed on Friday to law enforcement and first responders along I-75, the route where the men were thought to have cleaned out stores of hand sanitizer to re-sale.

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