SAVANNAH -- In the first legal action taken against alleged Hurricane Floyd price gouging, Rekhea and Danny Patel, operators of the Knights Inn off Interstate 75 in Vienna, were assessed civil penalties totaling $180,000.
The Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs charged the Patels with violations of Georgia's Fair Business Practices laws in response to complaints made during the state of emergency declared Sept. 14 by Gov. Roy Barnes as an unprecedented number of coastal evacuees sought shelter inland.
"We anticipate other actions," said Tryllis Hallford, director of communications with the department. "We are moving as quickly as we can. They just pulled together this one first."
According to Georgia's price-gouging law, businesses can't raise their prices the day of or the day after an emergency declaration.
The maximum penalty for that violation is $2,000 per violation.
But the Knights Inn in Dooly County was also charged with violating additional consumer laws when it didn't honor the advertised rates posted outside the motel or the ones listed on its Web site. Each misrepresentation was an additional $2,000 per violation.
The $180,000 sum is one the consumer affairs office hopes will show that the agency means business -- fair business.
"First of all, (the message) to businesses is: Don't do it," Ms. Hallford said Tuesday. "And to consumers, if you feel like you were a victim, call us."
Since the evacuation, nearly 200 calls have been made from consumers who believed they were cheated. A staff of about 17 civil and criminal investigators are examining the complaints from those citizens, who reside mostly in the southern and coastal counties, Ms. Hallford said.
"The goal is to make restitution to the consumer and to stop businesses from violating the law so that other consumers aren't victims also," she said.
The Patels have 10 days to request a hearing with a state administrative law judge, who will either confirm or deny the order.
To make a complaint to the Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs, call (800) 869-1123. A counselor will take your complaint and investigate from there.