UPDATE 2/14/14 @ 5:47 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W. Va. (WSAZ) -- The owner of a Hurricane business accused of price gouging the sale of water during the chemical spill is speaking out.
The Attorney General's office announced a complaint was filed Friday morning.
Achraf Assi was surprised to find his business was the target of a price gouging complaint.
"Bottom line, the answer is no, I did not gouge," Assi said.
Assi owns Mid-Valley Mart, LLC., a group of gas stations in the Hurricane area.
The West Virginia Attorney General's office filed the complaint, charging his business with hiking the price of gallon water jugs by 100 percent during the water crisis.
"I will not tolerate bad apples that are trying to misrepresent West Virginia consumers; it's just not going to happen on my watch," said West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.
The complaint said the price of gallon jugs of water went from $1.59 to $3.39.
But Assi said that's not the case.
"I've got to know where they got $1.59 from because when I sell my one liter, I sell them for $1.59, I don't sell my gallons for $1.59, never did, never will," Assi said.
Still, Morrisey said he feels confident about this case in particular.
"I think the most important thing here is that we took our time, we investigated this carefully. We've actually gone out to the facility and we made sure that we got this right," Morrisey said.
A customer at Mid-Valley Mart disagreed with the complaints.
"I get my gas here all the time, convenience store food items, prices are always fair," Jay Miller said.
Assi said during the crisis, he tried to help. He gave away free water from the tap.
"We had good water, so what I did, I opened my doors to people. Come in, get free water instead of paying for it," said Assi.
He said he'll do what it takes to prove he's innocent.
Assi told WSAZ.com he already provided the Attorney General's office with three months of paperwork to prove he didn't gouge.
The Attorney General said they have a number of violations in this case and he's confident they will prevail in court.
According to a news release, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has filed an enforcement action against Mid Valley Mart LLC in Hurricane.
The attorney general says Mid Valley Mart I and Mid Valley Mart II increased its price of bottled water by more than 100-percent after a state emergency was declared after a chemical leak at Freedom Industries contaminated water for more than 300,000 people on January 9.
The complaint alleges the company kept the prices inflated for at least a week.
“Our office worked diligently in the hours and days after the chemical spill to educate both citizens and businesses about the state's price gouging laws. At that time, we pledged to aggressively pursue any entity that artificially inflated prices to take advantage of citizens in a time of need,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “In this case, it doesn't appear that our warnings were heeded.”
The complaint alleges Mid Valley Mart LLC and its manager/owner Achraf Assi increased the price of gallon jugs of water to $3.39 on the morning of Jan. 10 at its two stores, which are located at 3706 Teays Valley Road and 2494 U.S. 60 in Hurricane. Previously, the store sold similar gallons of water for $1.59. The complaint also details one consumer who was charged more than $40 for twelve (12) 1-gallon jugs of water.
“I will not tolerate people taking advantage of our citizens during times of emergency,” Morrisey said. “If you think you can get away with breaking the law or price gouging our citizens, think again.”
The attorney general says the complaint seeks restitution and reimbursement to consumers and fines in excess of $5,000 per violation.
The attorney general's office has received 150 calls involving water or other goods at higher prices during the "do not use" water ban.
Under state law, a business can't raise its prices on essential products by more than 10-percent during an emergency and for 30 days after, whichever is longer. In this state of emergency, bottled water was deemed to be an essential consumer item because the West Virginia-American Water Co. issued a do-not-use order restricting consumers from using it for cooking, cleaning, bathing or even laundry.
“As we all continue to deal with the effects of this leak, I encourage consumers to report any price gouging they may be experiencing. To date, our office has issued six investigative subpoenas and served ceased and desist letters to more than 15 entities. My office will continue to aggressively pursue and investigate instances of gouging as they arise,” Morrisey stated.
WSAZ.com spoke with the owners of Mid Valley Mart. He says there's no merit to this complaint. He says he even gave away free water during the crisis.
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