Super Liquor’s $10K COVID-19 Price Gouging Fine Is Dismissed
That was the decision rendered last week by Michael Flores, an independent administrative hearing officer for the city of Fresno.
The verdict came after Flores ruled that city officials failed to present evidence supporting a $10,000 price-gouging fine against Super Liquor in northwest Fresno.
It took one year for the store to be vindicated.
During that time, the store’s owner says he’s been the victim of vandalism, repeated verbal assaults against himself and his employees, and a near assault.
“Words spoken can’t go unspoken, and now the damage is done,” said Ravinder Singh, who is fighting to restore the store’s reputation.
The store has been in his family for decades. He says the mix-up occurred when agents confused different stacks of bottled water.
Singh says he probably could file something against the city but has no plans to do so. He just wants to move on.
In the deposition, Flores wrote:
“The Hearing Officer does believe that the city has not provided sufficient evidence to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the price charged by Appellant (Super Liquor) for a 24 pack of 16.9 oz. bottles of ‘Aquafina’ water was greater than 10% calculated from the difference in price of the product prior to and after the declaration of the state of emergency.”
March 2020 News Conference
On Mar. 20, 2020, City officials held a news conference to announce officials had fined the northwest Fresno liquor store $10,000 for allegedly selling a 24-pack of bottled water for $16.
Fresno City Council President Miguel Arias, who was at the news conference, said that an undercover investigator with the city attorney’s office was quoted exorbitant prices at the counter for brands normally costing much less. “And, as you can see from the location of this store, it could occur in any part of the city. And is it is completely unacceptable. In any part of the city,” Arias said at the time.
The fine followed the passing of an anti-price gouging ordinance by the city council just 4 days prior. The ordinance froze prices on essential goods and services due to the pandemic.
Bottle Mix Up
“We have a responsibility when the public has a concern to go and investigate that concern.”— Fresno City Council Member Mike Karbassi
Singh says the $16 price mentioned by the city was for the 20-ounce bottles of Aquafina that cost him $16.85.
“There was a total of four stacks of water inside the business,” says Singh. “(But) there were two different sizes.”
City Council Member Response
Fresno City Council Member Mike Karbassi was at the original news conference last year when the fine was announced.
“We have a responsibility when the public has a concern to go and investigate that concern,” Karbassi tells GVWire. “With the pandemic, we were getting reports, and we went out and we felt there was enough evidence to issue a citation.”
Karbassi says the owner had every right to fight the case in front of an Administrative Officer.
“That’s the way it went and we move on,” said Karbassi who says the city will not pursue an appeal because he says it would cost more than what it’s worth at this point.
Karbassi does plan to meet with the owner in the coming days to see what can be done moving forward.
“I want them to succeed in the business,” said Karbassi.
GVWire reached out to Council Member Arias for comment but didn’t receive a response.