A Chester County pharmacy is the latest business in Pennsylvania to face civil court penalties for “price gouging” personal protective equipment during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the state Attorney General’s Office.
Paoli Pharmacy has agreed to pay $5,300 in fines for selling 100 individual N95 masks for $25 each, Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Tuesday. The business must also reimburse almost $2,000 to the customers who purchased the masks.
“We won’t tolerate illegal price gouging during this emergency, and we’re taking action every day to stop it — here in Chester County and across Pennsylvania,” Shapiro said, adding that Pennsylvanians “have a right ... to purchase life-saving goods at reasonable prices whether in store or online.”
The owners of Paoli Pharmacy did not return a request for comment Tuesday.
Shapiro’s office would not disclose how much the pharmacy should have been selling the masks for, but said its profit margin was above the $1-per-mask figure deemed acceptable during the coronavirus lock down.
Since Gov. Tom Wolf issued an emergency declaration over the coronavirus, Shapiro’s office has been urging residents to submit tips about predatory pricing. As of Tuesday, 20 businesses across the state — half of them in Southeastern Pennsylvania — have been forced to pay fines for gouging customers on items including hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray, and protective face masks, according to prosecutors.
Only a fraction of the complaints submitted through the office’s tip line end in punitive measures. A spokesperson for Shapiro’s office said that of the 200 businesses investigated for alleged price gouging,150 were cleared when the subjects proved their price hikes were the result of higher costs they had incurred.
In June, Shapiro’s office won an additional settlement against Landmark Supply, a New Jersey-based pharmaceutical distributor that was selling Purell hand sanitizer to local businesses for more than $8 a bottle.
And with Wolf’s coronavirus emergency order still in effect after surviving a legal challenge last week, Shapiro said his office is continuing to solicit tips from residents about price gouging.
Under the law, price gouging constitutes any retail markup more than 20% above the average price of a good sold in the week before the emergency declaration. That restriction extends beyond medical supplies. Shapiro’s office, in the early days of the pandemic, was receiving tips about higher-than-usual prices for toilet paper and paper towels.
“You’ll know it when you see it,” Shapiro told The Inquirer in May. “You’ll see something where the price seems very high. And we want you to report that to us.”
The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office is asking consumers to send price-gouging complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org.