A Philadelphia company charged $75 per hand sanitizer bottle as it tried to make an “exorbitant profit off of the desperation of Pennsylvania consumers,” according to a new lawsuit filed by the state Attorney General’s Office.
M&B Multi Services Inc., which sold items through Amazon.com’s online marketplace, price-gouged consumers for Purell while the product was hard to get during the coronavirus pandemic, the lawsuit contends. It is the first price-gouging lawsuit brought by the Attorney General’s Office since the pandemic swept across the country in early March and sparked thousands of price-gouging complaints from Pennsylvania consumers.
The lawsuit, filed in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, said retailer M&B and its owner, Branly Morel, sold 49 hand sanitizer bottles for $75.80 each and charged $65.80 per bottle for 34 more. Consumers paid $6,437.78 for these 83 bottles of hand sanitizer, including $486.38 in shipping charges.
Similar 8-ounce Purell bottles often sold for $6.14 each before March 6, according to the complaint. Pennsylvania law bars companies from charging more than 20% above the average price of a good sold in the week before an emergency declaration. Gov. Tom Wolf declared a state of emergency on March 6 due to the pandemic.
M&B received the orders for the hand sanitizer bottles on March 6 and could have canceled the orders after learning of the governor’s disaster declaration, but did not do so, the complaint said. The orders were shipped after March 6, the suit said.
“It’s illegal to rip off Pennsylvanians during a pandemic, and we’re holding price-gougers accountable,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement. “During a time when millions are out of work and millions more are struggling to pay for food and medicine, playing off people’s fears to rip them off is wrong, and illegal.”
M&B did not answer an email or messages sent through Amazon and the company’s website, mytreasuresearch.com. A man who answered a phone number listed for Morel said he wasn’t Morel and hung up.
In an April email, Morel told the Attorney General’s Office that “at the time it was not a state of emergency, everything was normal and I did not know that I couldn’t buy at a price and sell at a higher price,” the complaint said. Neither M&B nor Morel has responded to the state’s attempts to resolve the matter, the complaint said, and they haven’t substantively responded to a subpoena, either.
According to Amazon data, M&B sold hand sanitizer for an average price of $8.30 between Dec. 20 and Jan. 19, the complaint said.
“I thought it was normal, I looked at it like when I go to a baseball game and pay more due to the seats,” the email from M&B said, according to the lawsuit.
The Attorney General’s Office has asked a judge to force M&B to refund customers and pay $10,000 for each violation of the state’s Price Gouging Act, or about $825,000 in penalties. The lawsuit also seeks a court order stopping the company from price-gouging again.
Amazon, the online retail giant, gave the Attorney General’s office a tip about M&B’s hand sanitizer orders, the complaint said. In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson said the company is monitoring its marketplace and has already removed more than a million offers for attempted price-gouging.
“We are disappointed that bad actors are attempting to take advantage of this global health crisis and, in addition to removing these offers, have suspended more than 10,000 selling accounts,” the spokesperson said. “We have referred the most egregious offenders to federal and state law enforcement across the country to hold them accountable.”