MADERA — The Madera County District Attorney’s Office is on the lookout for profiteers and scam artists trying to capitalize on the COVID-19 crisis to make a quick buck.
This week, the D.A.’s Office issued a stern warning: “Price gouging during a state of emergency is a crime.”
District Attorney Sally Moreno defined price gouging as “increasing the price of essential goods or services by more than 10 percent” during a state of emergency, which the governor declared last month at the onset of the coronavirus outbreak.
The D.A. encouraged anyone who believes they might have encountered or been a victim of price gouging to report the incident to local law enforcement and/or her office.
Depending on where the price gouging is reportedly occurring, Moreno said Madera County residents could contact the appropriate law enforcement agency.
- In the city of Madera, contact the Madera Police Department at (559) 675-4200.
- In unincorporated areas of the county, contact the Madera County Sheriff’s Office at (559) 675-7770.
- In the city of Chowchilla, contact the Chowchilla Police Department at (559) 665-8600.
Madera County’s justice system continues to operate, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Madera County Superior Court has limited court appearances to only essential cases where there is no waiver of the defendant’s speedy trial rights. This means that the court remains open
to hear certain cases.
“We will continue to prosecute cases and appear in court when necessary while at the same time adapting to the ever-changing world during this unprecedented pandemic.” D.A. Moreno said in a recent Facebook post.
On March 17, the District Attorney’s Office issued a memo titled “Price Gouging Laws and the Coronavirus.”
“Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in California on March 4, 2020,” the memo stated. “The Madera County District Attorney’s Office cautions businesses and scammers not to take advantage of consumers by price gouging during the ongoing threat posed by COVID-19. It is illegal for businesses to increase its prices for essential goods or services by more than 10 percent unless they can show that their own costs have been increased.”
Violations of the price gouging statute are subject to criminal prosecution that can result in a one-year county jail sentence and/or a fine of up to $10,000. Violations are also subject to civil enforcement actions including civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation and mandatory restitution.
Essential goods and services include food and drink, emergency supplies (water, flashlights, radios, batteries, candles, blankets, soaps, diapers, toiletries), and medical supplies (prescription and nonprescription medications, bandages, gauze, isopropyl alcohol and antibacterial products).
It is also a misdemeanor for a hotel or motel operator to increase regular rates by more than 10 percent during a declared emergency — and for the 30 days following the state of emergency.
The DA’s Office is also warning consumers to be wary of fake websites or “phishing” emails and text messages during this time from individuals using the pretext of the COVID-19 crisis to solicit money.
For questions and concerns regarding price gouging or COVID-19-related scams, contact the Madera County District Attorney’s Office at (559) 675-7726.