The Kern County District Attorney’s Office said it has investigated more than 60 complaints of price-gouging allegations over the past several weeks amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The DA’s Office said one of the most common issues that has come up is in an increase in profiteering activity, which has traditionally not met the legal definition of price gouging and therefore was not directly prohibited.
That is no longer the case, however. The DA’s Office said Gov. Newsom’s new executive order bolsters price-gouging laws and implements new rules prohibiting profiteering.
According to the state, price gouging is defined as when a person or business who already sold included items prior to a state of emergency raises prices by more than 10 percent when that increase is not attributed to increased costs of obtaining the item being sold.
Profiteering occurs when a person or business did not sell the included items prior to a state of emergency but obtains and places the items for sale for purposes of selling them at a high profit due to increased demand, the state says.
“The executive order on profiteering and price gouging provides greater ability for law enforcement to protect both consumers and businesses,” DA Cynthia Zimmer said. “By expanding the law to cover profiteering and prohibiting unconscionably excessive prices, the order increases our ability to protect businesses and consumers alike from unfair competition practices.”
The new order prohibits profiteering with unconscionably excessive pricing from April 4 through Sept. 4.
According to the order, if a person or business did not offer an item for sale on Feb. 4 and the item is a food item, consumer good, medical supplies, or emergency supplies and a person or business began selling the item after Feb. 4, it is unlawful to sell or offer to sell that item for an unconscionably excessive price as of April 4.
Both price gouging and profiteering are misdemeanors under the executive order. Price gouging is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine. Profiteering violations are punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.