DA O’Malley and Atty Gen. Becerra Announce Price Gouging Charges Against Grocery Store Owner

On May 7, Alameda County DA O’Malley and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced that their offices have jointly filed a nine-count misdemeanor complaint charging Apna Bazar, a large grocery store in Pleasanton, and Rajvinder Singh, the store’s owner, with price gouging. This prosecution marks the first ever price gouging action in Alameda County.

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. 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,” says District Attorney O’Malley.

“We take price gouging seriously and are committed to going after those who break the law during the public health emergency,” said Attorney General 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.

Today’s complaint alleges that following the emergency declaration, Mr. 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.)

Based on 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, DA Nancy 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 us know by using a dedicated email address: pricegouging@acgov.org

Notice to appear have been issued to the defendants, and the out-of-custody arraignments will take place on July 9, 2020. A copy of the joint complaint and declaration of probable cause is attached to this press release.

Summary of Price Gouging law in California:

Penal Code section 396, subsection (b) provides that during a state of emergency, and for 30 days following the declaration, price increases on goods and services may not exceed 10 percent. It is only lawful to go above the 10 percent cap if the excess amount is directly attributable to costs incurred to offer the good or service. Violation of this section is punishable as a misdemeanor, including imprisonment in county jail for not more than one year and/or a fine of not more than $10,000. In addition to Penal Code Section 396, the Governor has signed Executive Order N-44-20, which extends Penal Code 396's protections until September 4, 2020, and puts additional price gouging protections into place beginning on April 4, 2020. The Governor’s Order generally prohibits increasing the price of food items, consumer goods, and medical and emergency supplies, by more than 10 percent of what a seller charged for that item on February 4, 2020. If the seller did not offer the item for sale on February 4, 2020, the seller may not sell the item at a price that is 50 percent greater than what they paid for it, or, if the seller produced the item, they may not sell it for a price that is 50 percent greater than the cost to produce and sell the item.

Posted on May 7, 2020