The Times West Virginian

February 15, 2014

Two stores targeted over water price gouging

By Jonathan Mattise
Associated Press

CHARLESTON — West Virginia’s attorney general is accusing a convenience store company of illegally raising water prices while a chemical spill left 300,000 people in the state without usable tap water.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey filed the enforcement action Friday in Putnam County Circuit Court, claiming Mid Valley Mart more than doubled prices for one-gallon water jugs to $3.39 at two Hurricane stores. The complaint also says one customer paid more than $40 for 12 one-gallon jugs.

The enforcement action claims the company charged the inflated prices for at least a week, until Jan. 17.

On Jan. 10, a customer bought six jugs at $1.59 per gallon but wanted another dozen, the complaint states. A clerk told the customer he would have to wait to see how much the additional jugs would cost “depending on whether Tyler Mountain raised its prices.”

The customer returned an hour later and had to pay $3.39 per jug. Tyler Mountain, the water jug company, did not raise its prices, the complaint states.

The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief, reimbursement to customers and fines in excess of $5,000 per violation.

Store owner Achraf Assi declined comment.

It’s illegal in West Virginia to raise prices on essential products and services by more than 10 percent in a state of emergency. An emergency declaration still is in effect for nine affected counties.

After the spill, the attorney general’s office has issued six investigative subpoenas and has sent 18 cease-and-desist letters for reported price gouging activities.

Federal emergency officials, state and local agencies and the water company started providing free water from outside sources shortly after the water-use ban took effect. The ban lasted up to 10 days in some neighborhoods.