Hurricane gougers at top of Attorney General’s action list

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is going after Hurricane Harvey gougers. (NOAA background)

$9.99 gasoline, three times normal hotel room rates

Reputation company allegedly deceived judges

Three companies that took advantage of people during Hurricane Harvey by charging extreme high prices of goods and service are among those that are feeling the wrath of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. One convenience store in Houston reportedly charged $20 for a gallon of gas, $8.50 for a water bottle, and $99 for a case of water, the attorney general’s office said. He also filed a petition going after a “reputation management” company for deceiving judges and the public.

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The attorney general named the following defendants in Hurricane Harvey price gouging lawsuits:

Robstown Enterprises, Inc., doing business as Best Western Plus Tropic Inn. The Robstown-based hotel allegedly charged three times its normal room rate the weekend Hurricane Harvey hit.  As a result, Best Western has since ended its relationship with Robstown Enterprises. The lawsuit also claims it collected the hotel occupancy tax, which the Governor had waived for storm victims and first responders.

“We were deeply offended and saddened by the actions of this hotel. As a result, we severed the relationship with the hotel.”

“Best Western was founded on the principles of honesty, integrity, compassion, and service,” a statement from Best Western spokeswoman Kelly Dalton said. “We were deeply offended and saddened by the actions of this hotel. As a result, we severed the relationship with the hotel. This hotel’s actions are contrary to the values of Best Western.  We did not and do not tolerate this type of egregious and unethical behavior. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the individuals, families, and communities impacted by Hurricane Harvey.”

Attorney General Greg Abbott of Texas is going after gougers taking advantage of Hurricane Harvey

Bains Brothers, owners of Texaco-branded gas stations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Two of the stations allegedly charged $6.99 a gallon for regular unleaded gas on Aug. 31, even while displaying signs with prices in the $3-$4 range.

Encinal Fuel Stop, a Chevron-branded gas station just outside Laredo, allegedly charged customers $8.99 and $9.99 a gallon for regular unleaded gas on Aug. 31.

A finding of price gouging carries civil penalties up to $20,000 for each violation and an additional amount of up to $250,000 for incidents calculated to acquire money from victims 65 or older. To date, the Consumer Protection Division of the attorney general’s office has received over 3,400 Hurricane Harvey price gouging complaints.

Paxton tweet (Ken Paxton)

“It’s unconscionable that any business would take advantage of Texans at their most vulnerable – those who are displaced from their homes, have limited resources, and are in desperate need of fuel, shelter and the basic necessities of life,” Attorney General Paxton said as his office filed lawsuits last week against them. “Texas has tough price gouging laws, and my office will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute cases arising from Hurricane Harvey.”

“My office will not allow Texas consumers, attorneys, and courts to be confused and deceived by this unlawful behavior.”

Solvera. Paxton also went after Solvera, an online reputation management company, by filing a petition with the Harris County District Court alleging they “violated the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act by abusing the legal system to deceive Harris County district court judges with its defamation lawsuits.”

The lawsuit alleges that Solvera perpetuated a “reputation management” scheme by filing lawsuits it knew contained false information – including fictitious plaintiffs and defendants. As a result, nationwide consumers, Texas attorneys and judges, along with search engines such as Google were all duped.

Paxton claims Solvera tricked lawyers into trusting that plaintiffs had authorized lawsuits and that an arrangement had been made with defendants, who was never actually the persons who posted comment reviews against Solvera’s clients. Instead, Solvera hired California blogger who made additional postings on their client’s website.

“At every step in its so-called reputation management process, Solvera repeatedly employed false, deceptive and misleading practices,” Attorney General Paxton said. “My office will not allow Texas consumers, attorneys, and courts to be confused and deceived by this unlawful behavior.”

Through its deceptive use of the legal process, Solvera was successful in deleting a number of potentially legitimate comments posted in the review section of websites, eliminating the feedback from search engine results without due process.

 

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