Mississippians Accused of Price Gouging in Florida

On a street corner in Punta Gorda, Florida, a city devastated by Hurricane Charley, a news crew from WTSP television approached Mississippians selling generators for $700.

The men weren't too fond of Reporter Bill McGinty's questions about price gouging. One man yelled, "If anybody is price gouging, it's these bigger companies -- Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Lowes. They had them at $1200."

McGinty pointed out that other dealers just down the street were selling generators for a couple hundred dollars.

WTSP was also there when a man who purchased a generator from the Mississippians came back for a refund. His generator broke down.

Investigators from Florida's Attorney General's office also showed up, demanding the Mississippians refund the man's money. They weren't arrested, but Lieutenant Darrel Grabner, an investigator with the Florida's A.G.'s office, asked them to leave the storm ravaged Sunshine State.

"You're probably both going to be leaving and heading back towards Mississippi if anyone is smart here today," the investigator told the men.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood wasn't amused when we showed him the story."It's a shame Floridians had to experience some of our characters going down doing that." Hood says he'd like to know who those men are.

In 1994, while working for former A.G. Mike Moore, Hood helped jail price gougers during north Mississippi's ice storm. "Taking advantage of people who are devastated is a horrible act," says Hood.

After the ice storm of 1994, the state changed it's penalties for price gouging. Before '94, the penalty was a misdemeanor. Today, it's a felony punishable by 1 to years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Hood agrees if some Mississippians travel elsewhere to price gouge they'll probably do it here.He has a message for them. "Anyone who ups their prices as a result of some catastrophe once there's been a declaration of a State of Emergency, they will go to jail," Hood warns.

By J.P. Hervis