PLEASANTON (CBS SF) -- A Pleasanton grocery store owner has been charged with nine misdemeanor counts of price gouging during the current coronavirus outbreak, prosecutors announced Thursday.
In a joint statement, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said a misdemeanor complaint has been filed, charging Apna Bazar, a large grocery store in Pleasanton, and Rajvinder Singh, the store's owner, with price gouging.
It marked the first Alameda County price gouging legal action during the state ordered shelter-in-place.
Investigators said customers began voicing complaints about the increase in prices of food items at the Pleasanton store shortly after the state of emergency was declared in California.
In a charging document, Alameda County investigator Serge Babka said: "On March 18, 2020, while searching social media for posts regarding price gouging in the Alameda County, I found a post from March 17, 2020 alleging Apna Bazaar LLC, d/b/a Apna Bazar, in Pleasanton, CA was engaged in price gouging. I began looking into the matter, and shortly thereafter our office received the first of numerous price gouging allegations against Apna Bazar. One complainant wrote the store was charging 'whatever they want.'"
A chorus of complaints from shoppers began coming into the DA's Office through phone calls, e-mails and postings on social media platforms.
"The law prevents businesses from profiteering when we are in a state of emergency," O'Malley said in a news release. "All businesses throughout Alameda County must be on notice that we will not sit idly by and allow consumers to fall prey to price gouging."
Becerra echoed those sentiments.
"We take price gouging seriously and are committed to going after those who break the law during the public health emergency," Becerra said. "The Department of Justice relies on all Californians to be vigilant in detecting price gouging. If you see something suspicious, or if you are a victim of price gouging, file a complaint. The more you report, the more we can stop this abuse."
California law prohibits charging a price that exceeds, by more than 10 percent, the price of an item before a state or local declaration of emergency. On March 4, 2020, the Governor declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which put the price gouging law into effect.
The complaint alleges that following the emergency declaration, Singh and Apna Bazar, illegally raised the prices of essential food items over the 10 percent threshold. Other Apna Bazar locations in the Bay Area are not part in this investigation.
Based on evidence provided by customer receipts and multiple interviews, the investigation confirmed pricing on several food items exceeded not only the 10 percent increase allowed during a state of emergency, but some prices being increased in excess of 300 percent more than what was previously charged.
O'Malley gave a stark warning to all Alameda County merchants that her office would be vigilant in investigating and prosecuting cases of price gouging and encouraged the reporting of any instances price gouging when shopping for consumer goods or medical supplies.
If you have been the victim of price gouging or have information regarding potential price gouging in Alameda County, you can file let us know by using a dedicated email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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