NYC files lawsuits against stores for coronavirus price gouging

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the commissioner of the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection have filed lawsuits against three businesses accusing them of price gouging on items like face masks and hand sanitizer amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Burns Pharmacy on Burns Street in Queens, Hong Kong Supermarket on Hester Street in Manhattan and Thomas Drugs on Columbus Avenue in Manhattan were variously charged with jacking up the prices on hand sanitizer, face masks, gloves, disinfectant wipes and cough medicine, the mayor’s office said in a statement Wednesday.

The companies have a combined total of 203 alleged violations for price gouging and face fines ranging from $12,000 to $69,500 in the cases brought against them in the City’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings.

“Taking advantage of New Yorkers in a crisis is unacceptable,” de Blasio said in a prepared statement. “Don’t even think about price gouging in our city. We won’t stand for it, and we will hold you fully accountable.”

DCWP Commissioner Lorelei Salas declared face masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes in short supply and a consumer protection rule went into effect barring increased prices by 10 percent or more for a two-month period on goods that are needed to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Khaja Khateb, a manager for Thomas Drugs, said the store is marking up prices at the normal percentage but wholesalers are selling at higher prices which accounts for the price hikes.

“It’s not price gouging. If the wholesaler is selling something for $10, I can’t sell it for $5,” Khateb said. “Why don’t you get the wholesalers? Why are they charging so much money?”

Burns Pharmacy and Hong Kong Supermarket could not immediately be reached for comment.

Since March 5, DCWP has received more than 7,200 complaint and issued over 2,700 violations for price gouging, the mayor’s office said.

De Blasio and Salas have previously fined a Manhattan drug store for allegedly charging customers as much as $200 for a pack of 20 face masks.

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