Caught! A Gas Station Owner in Florida is Charged with Price Gouging

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This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," September 26, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: In the first lawsuit of its kind since Hurricane Katrina struck, the state of Florida is taking on a gas station owner who admits to artificially hiking up gasoline prices to deter buyers so he could save gas for himself. Besides the growing gas crisis, could we now have a crime wave on our hands?

Joining us now, Florida attorney general Charlie Crist. Attorney General Chris, thank you for being with us.


COLMES: I can't believe one of your investigators went to this person and he actually said, "I wanted to — I raised prices so fewer people would buy gas, we'd save some and I'd have some more myself." He admitted it, right?

CRIST: It's amazing, isn't it? Yes, he did. He did. And that's the statement that we were able to take from the gas station owner. As soon as that happened, all the gloves were off. It was time to fight and defend the people of Florida.

You know, when Governor Bush declared a date of emergency, that puts the price gouging statute into effect. That's the only time that it applies in our state. It's a good law. It protects the people and says simply that if somebody tries to raise the price of any necessity during the wake of a national emergency, in a state of emergency declared by our governor, then nobody can increase the prices of their goods in gross disparity to what it was before the declaration of the state of emergency.

COLMES: How widespread is price gouging? Is this an isolated incident or is this going on all over the place?

CRIST: Well, in this particular type, we think it's an isolated incident, but we're continuing to investigate.We got about 170 complaints on our toll-free hotline here in Florida. We're investigating those, trying to make sure that there aren't other cases.

We heard about one today in Tampa, Florida, as a matter of fact, that we sent investigators out to.

So we continue to try to protect the people of our state, to defend them, make sure that they're not victimized twice. You know, once by the storm and then twice by somebody who's unscrupulous!

HANNITY: Mr. Attorney General, there are a couple of decent arguments on the other side. I think anybody that would take advantage of their fellow citizens in a time of need is a horrible person.

Putting that aside, though, we do have a free market economy where, you know, this crisscross takes place, where supply and demand is going to dictate the price here. I mean, if somebody is selling bottled water for $1 a bottle and the emergency comes and there is a rush on demand and they start selling it for $3 or $4, is that price gouging? Would you prosecute?

CRIST: It is, and we will. And we have. And we're going to continue to do so.

And Sean, I agree with you, listen, I'm a free market guy. I'm a Reagan Republican. I believe in having the market determine what the price ought to be, but a state of emergency is the trigger mechanism. That's where, you know, we want to protect the free market. We also want to protect the people of Florida from not being taken advantage of during a declared state of emergency by Governor Bush. We're going to fight for them; we're going to protect them.

HANNITY: I agree. What if they decide not to sell something because they want to hold it for themselves?

CRIST: If they decide not to sell it.

HANNITY: Close down their stores? Close down their gas station?

CRIST: Well, that's a great question. People can choose not to sell something. But if they have it, and they're deceiving people about not having it, then it's unfair trade and deceptive practice. That's a $10,000 fine in the state of Florida.

And imagine if they don't — if they say they don't have it, yet they really do, people are evacuating and the state of emergency, fleeing for their lives, and somebody decides they're going to horde their product, they are going to save it so that people can't escape and save themselves from a potential flood like they may have had in New Orleans? That's an unconscionably cold heart, and we will prosecute.

COLMES: Attorney General, we thank you so much for coming on tonight. Thanks for what you're doing.

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