Crime & Justice

Hotels allegedly illegally price-gouging following the Blue Cut Fire

The Blue Cut Fire off Interstate 15 in the Cajon Pass Tuesday evening.
The Blue Cut Fire off Interstate 15 in the Cajon Pass Tuesday evening.
Stuart Palley for KPCC

The San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office has received multiple reports of illegal price gouging at multiple hotels, attorney Douglas Poston with the office's Consumer Protection Unit told KPCC. Poston couldn't talk specifics, but said they were for hotels in the High Desert area, including the communities of Victorville and Hesperia.

"Folks that were unfortunately affected and trapped up in the High Desert due to the freeway closure, those folks were being quoted rates that were far higher than average for the various hotels up in the area," Poston said.

Poston warned that if people have a suspicion someone has attempted price gouging following an emergency being declared in the region due to the Blue Cut Fire, they should contact the DA's Office's Consumer Protection Unit.

"Obviously, we will investigate those complaints, and hold accountable anybody that would engage in that kind of despicable practice," Poston said.

Price gouging in this case is when someone is quoted a price for goods or service that is at least 10 percent higher over what would normally be charged, Poston said. The practice is illegal once an emergency has been declared.

"That practice, it's an unfair business practice, it's predatory, and it's illegal. And on top of that, it really shows a cruel indifference to the suffering of all those displaced by that tragedy. The penalties are up to a year in county jail, a $10,000 fine, or both," Poston said.

On top of that, he added, there can also be civil penalties that can be thousands more per incident.

Examples of price gouging cited by Poston include being quoted a price for basic necessities such as water, food, blankets, shelter, rental properties, hotels, repair services and emergency cleanup services that's at least 10 percent more than they would have offered them for before the emergency was declared.

Once the Blue Cut Fire has calmed down, the DA's Office plans to visit the High Desert community to offer information to local residents about the predatory practices that can occur following a fire.

If you have a complaint, you can call the Consumer Protection Unit at (909) 382-7748.