As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to strain the nation’s economy and cause unprecedented shortages of medical supplies and other necessities, federal and state authorities are turning their attention to prosecuting price gougers. United States Attorney General William Barr has directed the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to aggressively target price gougers pursuant to President Trump’s Executive Order on Preventing Hoarding of Health and Medical Resources to Respond to the Spread of COVID-19, and the Attorneys General of 33 states have issued joint letters to the CEOs of Amazon, Facebook, eBay, Walmart, and Craigslist demanding their participation in the states’ fight against price gouging during the pandemic.
While President Trump’s Executive Order is specific to critical medical supplies such as masks and ventilators, the state Attorneys General have signaled their intent to target all forms of price gouging. This includes, but is not limited to, price gouging involving hand sanitizer and other consumer products. According to Dr. Nick Oberheiden, founder of national compliance and defense law firm Oberheiden P.C., “The DOJ and state Attorneys General have sent a clear message by singling out price gougers during the novel coronavirus pandemic. With everything going on during this unprecedented time, state and federal law enforcement authorities are still committed to protecting our nation’s health care providers and citizens—while punishing bad actors in the process.” In particular, Dr. Oberheiden warns that businesses suspected of price gouging during the COVID-19 crisis are at risk for being targeted through civil investigative demands (CIDs). “A CID is a unique investigative tool that gives state and federal law enforcement authorities broad power to demand information that they can use to bring civil charges.
Additionally, even if an investigation begins civil in nature, it can lead to criminal prosecution if the investigating authorities believe that criminal charges are warranted.” In many cases, Dr. Oberheiden says, evidence uncovered during price gouging investigations will support criminal charges under pertinent federal and state laws. For companies targeted with CIDs, a prompt and effective response is critical. “While CIDs are dangerous, there are defense strategies available at the federal and state levels,” says Dr. Oberheiden. “In order to avoid prosecution for price gouging during the novel coronavirus pandemic, companies need to make strategic decisions during the government’s investigation, and they need to rely on the advice of experienced legal counsel.”
In addition to more than 20 senior attorneys, Oberheiden P.C.’s team also includes retired and former agents with the FBI, DOJ, and other federal agencies who have extensive experience on both sides of law enforcement investigations. Business owners who have questions about federal legal compliance during the COVID-19 crisis or who have received civil investigative demands pertaining to allegations of price gouging should contact the firm at 214-692-2171 or email Dr. Oberheiden directly at [email protected] The information contained in this statement does not constitute legal advice. Prior results do not guarantee similar outcomes. This information may constitute attorney advertising in some jurisdictions. All website disclaimers apply.