Anchorage man allegedly sold thousands of respirators ‘at unconscionable prices’ during COVID-19 pandemic

Published: Apr. 1, 2020 at 1:01 PM AKDT
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An Anchorage man is accused of selling thousands of respirators “at unconscionable prices” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He is alleged to have visited the Lowes on Tudor Rd. in late February where he bought 293 20-packs of N95 respirators, or face masks, at $21.98 per pack.

On Amazon and eBay, he is alleged to have sold the respirators that he bought at multiple Alaska stores for roughly $50 more per pack than he paid for them. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, a 20-pack of respirators sold for roughly $16 per pack on Amazon, according to court documents.

The Alaska Attorney General’s office is asking an Anchorage Superior Court to impose a fine of $25,000 for each individual sale.

Under current Alaska law, the Anchorage man could be found guilty of violating the Unfair Trade Practices Act which prohibits unfair acts or practices in the course of trade and commerce.

John Haley, the head of the Consumer Protection Unit which operates under the Department of Law, brought the complaint forward on April 1. He says Amazon alerted the department to the allegedly unfair sales.

Last week, Haley said by phone that the unit couldn’t disclose whether there has been an uptick of price gouging complaints during the COVID-19 outbreak as complaints are kept confidential.

Haley did say that his unit had recently got funding to hire an investigator in late 2018, helping to bring forward three lawsuits in the past year.

Unlike many states, Alaska doesn’t currently have a specific statute that prohibits price gouging. Haley says that there are some protections against unfair and deceptive trade practices defined by case law and

"So generally, the criteria that past courts have used is asked whether an act on practice is offensive to public policy or to just generally accepted standards of fairness," Haley said.

In coronavirus emergency legislation passed by the Alaska Legislature, lawmakers included an amendment that would prohibit price gouging during the COVID-19 emergency. The amendment stops sellers from increasing prices by 10% on protected goods from before the emergency was declared.

The list of protect goods includes:

  • Food
  • Medicine
  • Medical equipment
  • Fuel
  • Sanitation products
  • Hygiene products
  • Essential household supplies
  • Other essential goods

There is a carve out though, allowing prices to rise due to normal fluctuations in the market.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, introduced the amendment and says it would mirror legislative protections that exist in 38 states across the country.

Wielechowski has long pushed for price gouging legislation, focusing in the past on heating oil and gas. This time there was little resistance in the Legislature to imposing more restrictions.

“It will hopefully nip that in the bud,” Wielechowski said about price gouging in Alaska.

KTUU has decided not to name the man accused of price gouging until every effort is made to contact him. Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.