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St. Paul company hiked prices of sanitation products, food during pandemic

It has agreed to stop re-selling essential consumer goods after action was brought by Attorney General Keith Ellison.

A St. Paul online retailer has fallen foul of Minnesota's Attorney General Keith Ellison's efforts to stop profiteering and price gouging during the coronavirus pandemic.

The AG's office announced on Thursday that it has reached a discontinuance agreement in court with Red Star Trader, a dry goods company that buys items wholesale, breaks them down into smaller portions, and re-sells goods at a markup.

An investigation found that when the pandemic arrived and grocery stores and other retailers started running out of essential items, Red Star Trader hikes the prices of its essential goods.

"For example, prior to the COVID-19 crisis, Red Star Trader sold 100-packs of sterile alcohol prep pads for $4.80, but began selling them after the start of the COVID-19 crisis for $7.90 each, plus shipping," the AG's office said.

Furthermore, it also started gouging on food items like rice, which it bought from local stores for around $30 before re-selling for $120 including shipping.

The company's inventory of "excessively-priced items" included other foods, health care goods, pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, and personal hygiene, sanitation, and cleaning goods, Ellison's office notes.

It has agreed to stop re-selling essential consumer goods as part of the court assurance, and will face a $20,000 penalty if it does.

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"I’m responsible for helping Minnesotans afford their lives during this crisis by enforcing the ban on pandemic profiteering and price-gouging on essential goods and services, and I’m cracking down on it," Ellison said.

"Most retailers are doing the right thing by Minnesotans and I thank them for it. But if you’re taking advantage of this crisis to illegally line your own pockets and hurt Minnesotans, we’re coming after you."

The practice of price gouging on essential items including food and medical supplies is banned by executive order during the peacetime emergency.

You can report price gouging by calling 651-293-3353 in the Twin Cities or 800-657-3787 in Greater Minnesota, or by filling out a dedicated online complaint form.

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