Attorney General Charlie Crist has announced that an investigation into possible price gouging following last year’s hurricanes has led to a settlement that will provide more than $200,000 in restitution for Floridians. The target of the investigation, Fort Walton Beach-based Garner Construction LLC, has agreed to cease all business operations in the state.
Garner, a construction remodeling company, was alleged to have overcharged consumers for water mitigation and minor home repairs.
Documents obtained through an investigative subpoena issued by the Attorney General’s Office, showed that Garner performed repairs on the personal property of 61 individuals and one assisted living facility. The assisted living facility, Villas of Gulf Breeze, was wrongly billed approximately $54,000 for water removal, demolition and cleanup.
For example, one charge was for use of a crane that allegedly was never on the property. Under the terms of the settlement, the facility will only pay $18,000 for the actual work performed. In another instance, a senior citizen, 83 years old, in Pensacola Beach was wrongly billed approximately $69,000 and now will only have to pay $25,000 for the actual work performed after the hurricane.
Under the settlement, Garner agreed to reduce its billings by a total of $203,658, a 22% cut from what the company original billed for the repair work.
“Florida citizens suffered serious losses during last year’s hurricanes and the last thing they needed were repair companies trying to bleed them for excess profits,” said Crist. “This settlement agreement should remind all Floridians that we will not tolerate profiteering.”
In addition, Garner will also shut down all business operations in Florida and none of its out-of-state sister companies will perform any hurricane-related repairs in Florida for five years. The company will also reimburse the taxpayers $10,000 to cover the costs of the Attorney General’s investigation.
The investigation was prompted by a number of consumer complaints to the Attorney General’s Price Gouging Hotline (1-866-9-NO-SCAM).
As described in the agreement, the probe looked into allegations “that some of the charges billed by Garner were considered excessive and possibly rose to the level of price gouging, as defined in Florida Statute 501.160.”
During last year’s record-setting hurricane season, the Attorney General’s Office received 8,911 complaints through its price gouging hotline. The office initiated 58 formal investigations and filed 13 price gouging lawsuits against hotels, generator businesses, tree removal companies and other businesses. Including the Garner settlement, to date the Attorney General’s Office has recovered more than $700,000 in restitution for Florida consumers. Other investigations and settlement negotiations are ongoing.
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