Barr says DOJ will go after coronavirus price gougers, hoarders

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The Trump administration on Monday vowed to go after price gougers and those who hoard crucial medical supplies amid the coronavirus pandemic that has seen store shelves emptied and the cost of basic necessities skyrocket in some areas.

At a White House press briefing, Trump said he signed an executive order earlier in the day that would prohibit the accumulation of supplies such as hand sanitizer, face masks and personal protective equipment in order to profit off the virus.

In an effort to address coronavirus-related scams, federal prosecutors recently shut down a website that sold a fake coronavirus vaccine, he said.

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"Very simply, we will not allow anyone to exploit the suffering of American citizens for their own profit," Trump said.

The order gives Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar the authority to designate certain supplies as scarce or as supplies threatened by people accumulating excessive amounts. Those found to be hoarding supplies or price gouging could face criminal prosecution.

Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department has seen evidence of price gouging and hoarding in recent weeks.

“Once specific materials are so designated, persons are prohibited from accumulating those items in excess of reasonable personal or business needs or for the purpose of selling them in excess of prevailing market prices,” Barr said.

No materials have been designated as scarce as of yet, Barr said. He added that the order doesn't apply to consumers or businesses stockpiling supplies for their own operations.

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"We’re talking about people hoarding these goods and materials on an industrial scale for the purposes of manipulating the market and ultimately driving windfall profits," he said. "If you have a big supply of toilet paper in your house, this is not something you have to worry about. But, if you are sitting on a warehouse with masks, surgical masks, you will be hearing a knock on your door.”