Two Tennessee men who purchased thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer with the intent to sell them at an exorbitant markup will avoid fines and jail time, The New York Times reports. They will, however, be out the money they initially spent on the supplies, after having donated the bottles.
Back in late February, when the first coronavirus death in the U.S. was reported, Matt Colvin and his brother, Noah Colvin — both from outside of Chattanooga — thought of a business opportunity. Sensing there would soon be a huge demand for hand sanitizer, the men went from store to store in several states, purchasing every last bottle of hand sanitizer they could.
They then listed 300 of the bottles for sale on Amazon, according to a March 16 report from Knoxville’s WVLT-TV. The bottles sold out quickly, despite the fact that they were sold for between $8 and $70 each.
Unfortunately for the brothers, their scheme didn’t last long. Amazon and other internet marketplaces began policing for price-gouging, effectively stopping the brothers — and other resellers with similar ideas — from profiting off hoarding and price-gouging.
What’s more, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery sent the Colvins a cease-and-desist letter. Similarly, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that directed the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute cases of price-gouging and hoarding of critical supplies, including face masks and hand sanitizer.
Because of this, the brothers were left with 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer that were effectively worthless. They wound up donating them to their church, which distributed them.
HAPPENING NOW: Matt did not answer our calls so we went to his storage unit. The AG’s office was on the scene facilitating with the donation. This is the 3rd stop they’ve been to this morning to gather the sanitizer. @WRCB https://t.co/SLOaEwJLOj pic.twitter.com/REJPNhiSbS
— Hunter Hoagland (@HunterHoagland) March 15, 2020
That was not the end of the brothers’ story, however. The two men — who had become vilified — were also accused of violating Tennessee’s price-gouging statutes.
This week, their criminal case concluded, as Slatery announced he would not prosecute them.
He noted the men’s donation and declared it was enough to convince him they’d seen the error of their ways.
“It became clear during our investigation that the Colvins realized this, and their prompt cooperation and donation led to an outcome that actually benefited some consumers,” he said.
Slatery did, however, note price-gouging is still a serious crime.
“Disrupting necessary supplies during an unprecedented pandemic is a serious offense,” he cautioned.
The brothers are far from the only people to be accused of hoarding during the coronavirus pandemic. Last month, authorities accused New York man Baruch Feldheim, 43, of stockpiling 192,000 N95 respirators, 130,000 surgical masks, and nearly 600,000 medical-grade gloves. He also wound up donating all of his allegedly hoarded supplies.