Saturday, November 13, 2004

Sebring Motel Charged

SEBRING, FL - Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner
Charles H. Bronson today took legal action against a Highlands County motel
owner for engaging in price gouging by charging at least three Florida
residents who sought shelter as Hurricane Charley blew ashore August 13
more than double the price he was charging just days earlier.

A lawsuit filed in Highlands County Circuit Court charges Marvin Patel and
Vibhuti Patel, the owners of a Budget Inn Motel in Sebring, with price
gouging and employing unfair and deceptive trade practices in the operation
of their motel.

Authorities claim that the Patels charged numerous Florida residents
between $85 and $95 a night for a room in their facility as evacuees
scrambled to find shelter - up from $35 to $45 a night they were charging
before an emergency was declared by Gov. Jeb Bush on August 10.

"We find this kind of activity unconscionable, preying on our citizens in a
time of need," Bronson said. "Price gouging is not only reprehensible, it's

The case was triggered by three consumer complaints to Bronson's office's
toll free hotline - 1 800 HELP FLA (435-7352) - and each of the three
victims is cited in the lawsuit. But when investigators began working the
case, they found that many other Floridians were also charged the inflated
price, Bronson said.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction prohibiting the defendants from inflating
their normal prices during a state of emergency, restitution to all
evacuees who were overcharged during their stay at the motel, fines of up
to $10,000 for each violation of the unfair and deceptive trade practices
statute and civil penalties of $1,000 each for every instance in which
price gouging occurred.

Today's action comes on the heels of two arrests made recently by Bronson's
Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement in connection with price gouging
investigations. In two separate incidents, defendants were charged with
organized scheme to defraud for charging homeowners who were impacted by
the storm exorbitant prices to repair or clean up storm-damaged houses.

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