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AG Investigating Bottled Water Price Gouging In Toledo

Aug 5, 2014

Toledo Mayor Michael Collins has lifted the water ban put in place because of toxins from algae that contaminated Lake Erie.

Governor John Kasich says there will be an extensive review of how the water supply became tainted with a toxin from algae in Lake Erie. The algae feeds on phosphorous from farm runoff and old sewage systems. Business groups like the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation have opposed regulations to limit phosphorous. A state lawmaker is planning hearings and says he wants to hear from scientists who can say what's behind the algae. Some store owners in the Toledo area were charging up to 15 dollars for a case of bottled water before the ban was lifted. That prompted complaints to the Ohio Attorney General's office. AG Mike DeWine tells Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles he is taking those complaints seriously.

DeWine -= We are going to try to go after them and gather the evidence.  We would encourage anyone who thinks they have been the subject of price gouging or knows about it to call the Attorney General’s office.  That’s 1 -800- 282-0515 or just go up online to Ohioattorneygeneral.gov because we want this information.
 
Ingles - I’m sure the shop owners, if they are doing this, are probably saying “hey, we own the shop, it’s supply and demand, people up here really want water and we think this is really what it is worth because of the situation.” Is there an Ohio law that actually defines what price gouging is?
 
DeWine – There is not an Ohio law on price gouging.  However, the law does say that if a practice is unconscionable that it could be a violation.  And so it is an unfair and deceptive practice to dramatically increase the price of in stock products based solely on the response to current events.  And so we are going to look and see what the facts are but we would encourage people to give us more evidence, give us more examples because we are going to go after people who are doing this.
 
Ingles – What about just letting nature take its course.  I mean if people are really ticked off about this sort of thing, and they are not happy with store owners who are doing this, isn’t the best course of action for shoppers to quit shopping there?
 
DeWine – They certainly can do that and that would be a good remedy but my job as attorney general is to enforce Ohio law.  And if there are unconscionable actions being taken with the sale of a product, I have an obligation to become involved.
 
Ingles – How many of these businesses are you investigating right now?
 
DeWine – That number is changing and I can’t really comment on that.  
 
Ingles – Now that people in Toledo can drink their water again and it’s potable, do you think that this will put an end to the practice you are looking into?
 
DeWine – Well, I suspect it will put an end to this practice.  But for those individuals who literally held up people over the weekend, there should be consequences, again, if the evidence is there.  And that’s what we are doing is trying to amass the evidence.

DeWine says his office began investigating the complaints over the weekend. DeWine's opponent, Democrat David Pepper, criticizes the Republican incumbent for not acting sooner.