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Indian American Grocery Store Owner Charged with Price Gouging During COVID-19 Crisis

Apna Bazar in Pleasanton, CA

PLEASANTON, CA- Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra May 7 announced that their offices have jointly filed a nine-count misdemeanor complaint charging Apna Bazar, an Indian American-owned large grocery store in Pleasanton, Calif., and Rajvinder Singh, the store’s owner, with price gouging. This prosecution marks the first-ever price gouging action in Alameda County, according to a press release from the Office of the Alameda District Attorney.

Customers began voicing complaints about the increase in prices of food items at the Pleasanton store shortly after the state of emergency was declared in California, said the release., adding that a chorus of complaints from shoppers reached the DA’s Office through phone calls, e-mails and postings on social media platforms.

“The law prevents businesses from profiteering when we are in a state of emergency. All businesses throughout Alameda County must be on notice that we will not sit idly by and allow consumers to fall prey to price gouging. My office will ensure that businesses adhere to the law and do not exploit consumers,” said O’Malley.

“We take price gouging seriously and are committed to going after those who break the law during the public health emergency,” said Becerra. “The Department of Justice relies on all Californians to be vigilant in detecting price gouging. If you see something suspicious, or if you are a victim of price gouging, file a complaint. The more you report, the more we can stop this abuse.”

California law prohibits charging a price that exceeds, by more than 10 percent, the price of an item before a state or local declaration of emergency. On March 4, 2020, the governor declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which put the price gouging law into effect.

The May 7 complaint alleges that following the emergency declaration, Singh and Apna Bazar in Pleasanton illegally raised the prices of essential food items over the 10 percent threshold. Other Apna Bazar locations in the Bay Area are not part in this investigation, the release noted.

Based on the evidence provided by customer receipts and multiple interviews, the investigation confirmed pricing on several food items exceeded not only the 10 percent increase allowed during a state of emergency but some prices being increased in excess of 300 percent more than what was previously charged.

When the state of emergency was originally declared, O’Malley gave a stark warning to all Alameda County merchants that her office would be vigilant in investigating and prosecuting cases of price gouging and encouraged the reporting of any instances price gouging when shopping for consumer goods or medical supplies. The DA’s Office continues to investigate complaints and will take necessary legal action when appropriate.

If you have been the victim of price gouging or have information regarding potential price gouging in Alameda County, you can let them know by using a dedicated email address: [email protected]

Notice to appear has been issued to the defendants, and the out-of-custody arraignments will take place on July 9, 2020. More information can be obtained by visiting https://www.alcoda.org/newsroom/2020/may/price_gouging_charges_grocery_store_owner.

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