Crist Reaches $609,000 Settlement from Hurricane Price Gouging

May 25, 2006

A settlement has been reached with a North Carolina-based company, resolving price gouging allegations stemming from the 2004 hurricane season, according to Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist.

Southeastern Restoration, Inc., also known as Afterdisaster, will pay more than $19,500 in restitution to victims of price gouging in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan and will issue a billing credit of more than $550,000 to other victims of gouging.

Crist’s price gouging hotline received a complaint in early 2005 that Afterdisaster was charging an exorbitant fee to a condominium association for water extraction and mold remediation services. A detailed investigation revealed that workers with the company had traveled to the Panhandle in the wake of Hurricane Ivan and contracted with two condominiums, the Oceania and the Aegean, both in Destin. Afterdisaster allegedly refused to provide the associations with a price list but claimed it charged a rate acceptable to insurers. Investigators alleged that the Oceania condominium was overbilled by at least 40 percent, while the Aegean was charged more than five times the actual cost of the work.

“Assistance from out-of-state service providers is welcome during an emergency, but profiteering is not,” Crist said. “This settlement allows full recovery for those who were overcharged.”

According to the settlement, Afterdisaster will issue a billing credit to the Aegean for $550,000, while the Oceania will receive $19,500 in reimbursements. The company has agreed to modify its business practices and will provide specific price lists when offering services during a declared state of emergency. In addition to consumer restitution, the company will reimburse Florida taxpayers $40,000 for the state’s cost of investigating.

During the past two record-setting hurricane seasons, the Attorney General’s Office received more than 14,000 complaints through its price gouging hotline. The office initiated 72 formal investigations and filed 15 price gouging lawsuits against hotels, generator businesses, tree removal companies and other businesses. Including the Afterdisaster settlement, to date the Attorney General’s Office has recovered more than $1.5 million in restitution or reimbursements for Florida consumers from price gouging settlements and other resolutions. Other investigations and settlement negotiations are ongoing.

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