Grewal has tough words on price gouging — and businesses that ignore restrictions

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said the Division of Consumer Affairs has received more than 1,400 coronavirus-related complaints concerning some 900 distinct locations across New Jersey in recent weeks.

Now, the good news: Most cases of price gouging, upon inspection, have not held up.

“We’re finding only small percentage of retailers are raising prices inappropriately,” he said. “In many cases, the prices seen are being driving by the manufacturer or the wholesaler — not your neighborhood retailer.”

Grewal, appearing at Gov. Phil Murphy’s daily coronavirus briefing for the first time Monday, touched on a number of items. (See his comments on the decision to release many county jail inmates here.)

File photo
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

He said investigators, working with counties, have completed 350 inspections to date, issued 160 cease-and-desist letters and served 160 subpoenas.

And, while Grewal said most cases of price gouging have not proven true, he made it clear that there are still plenty of misdeeds out there. And to come.

“We have to remain vigilant,” he said. “Having been a prosecutor for the majority of my career, I will absolutely guarantee you that additional fraud cases are going to come. Additional cyberfraud is going to come. Additional financial fraud cases are going to come, particularly when federal money starts to flow in and recovery efforts across this state.”

Grewal said law enforcement is going to step up its vigilance when it comes to enforcing the rules of Murphy’s executive orders regarding remaining at home.

“For those who refuse to do their part, let me assure that there will be serious legal consequences,” he said.

Grewal said his office will be after three things:

  • Violations of the stay-at-home order;
  • Price gouging;
  • Bias or acts of hate.

He specifically addressed businesses breaking rules.

“If you’re a retail store or entertainment store and you stay open, if you’re a bar and you keep serving patrons in your establishment, consider this your final warning,” he said. “Your actions are against the law in New Jersey and you will be held accountable.”

Grewal reiterated the state’s strong stance against hate crimes — as well as bias and harassment.

“This should go without saying, but, unfortunately, it bears repeating right now: COVID-19 is no excuse for intolerance or hate,” he said. “There have been disturbing reports from around the county and also in this state of discrimination, of harassment, even assault against people of East Asian descent. We can’t allow ignorance or fear of COVID-19 to lead to stereotyping or prejudice.

“COVID-19 has been declared a worldwide pandemic. It doesn’t discriminate in terms of race, national origin or religion. And no one community is more at risk of contracting it or transmitting it. We have zero tolerance in this state for any kind of discrimination or hate. We’re here to help. If you’ve been the victim of a hate crime, contact law enforcement immediately.”

Grewal said hate is a disease, too.

“Hate, in all of its forms, whether it’s discrimination, whether it’s bias crimes, is a disease,” he said. “A disease that we have to contain.

“In my mind, even though there are a handful of incidents, that’s a handful of incidents too many.”

Murphy echoed his thoughts in stronger terms.

“There is a special place in hell for the people who take advantage of this health crisis, whether you are price gouging, or you view this as an excuse to pursue racist or bullying behavior,” he said.

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