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The Tennessee Attorney General’s Office has ordered two Tennessee brothers — who purchased 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer amid the coronavirus scare — to stop buying and selling medical goods and products as they investigate possible price gouging.
“We will not tolerate price gouging in this time of exceptional need, and we will take aggressive action to stop it,” Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III said in a statement about brothers Matt and Noah Colvin.
The brothers first gained attention in an article in The New York Times that described the duo’s efforts to clear out shelves of hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes from stores across Tennessee and Kentucky after the country had its first death from the coronavirus on March 1.
The pair initially traveled together in SUV, stopping at a Dollar Tree, Walmart, Staples, and Home Depot in Tennessee. Noah Colvin then embarked on a solo mission across Tennessee and Kentucky to fill a rented U-Haul with supplies while his brother Matt Colvin stayed behind to wait for online orders to arrive of more items.
The brothers began to resell the items on Amazon, listing 300 bottles of sanitizer for anywhere from $8 to $70 a bottle.
But by the following day, Amazon had begun to crack down on the overpriced listings and pulled the Colvins' listings and others from the site, The Times reports.
The brothers were left with a massive supply of hand sanitizer and nowhere to sell it.
“It’s been a huge amount of whiplash,” Matt told The Times for the initial article. “From being in a situation where what I’ve got coming and going could potentially put my family in a really good place financially to ‘What the heck am I going to do with all of this?’”
The Colvin brothers' woes continued on Thursday when Governor Bill Lee declared a state of emergency in Tennessee, triggering the state’s anti-price gouging law. The law prohibits vendors from charging too much during a crisis tied to a state emergency, according to the Attorney General’s Office.
As the backlash against the brothers began to grow — and they reportedly began to receive death threats — the Colvins decided to donate the supplies, local station WRBC reports.
“As of today 3/15/2020 all items referred to in the NYT article have been donated to a local church,” Matt wrote on his website.
Samantha Fisher of the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office told Oxygen.com the Attorney General’s Office were on site as the brothers' storage unit was emptied of the medical supplies, including sanitizer, wipes, and face masks.
“Most of it has been donated to a local church which will distribute it,” Fisher said. “A smaller portion has been set aside as we work with Kentucky officials.”
While Matt was initially unapologetic in interviews with WRBC about his attempt to capitalize on the demand, over the weekend, his tune had changed.
“If by my actions anyone was directly impacted and unable to get sanitizer because I purchased it all, I am truly sorry for that," he said.
Fisher told Oxygen.com that even though the brothers decided to donate the materials, they still could face legal consequences. Those potential consequences could include “civil penalties” of $1,000 for every violation.
“This is a time where we have to focus on helping our neighbors, not profiting from them,” Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said, according to the release. “We’re not going to tolerate selfish actions that put the health of Kentuckians at risk, and I’m grateful for Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s partnership in bringing an end to this harmful scheme.”
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