CHARLESTON — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey says he has been moved by the kindness and resiliency he has seen from state residents in the past week in the aftermath of deadly flooding.
During a June 30 press conference with U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, Morrisey provided an update and and shared steps initiated by his office in response the flood and state of emergency.
“While there have been reports of price gouging, the overwhelming majority of West Virginia businesses have displayed incredible generosity during this disaster and its aftermath,” Morrisey said. “I urge everyone to remain cautious and report any evidence of potential wrongdoing to our consumer protection hotline."
Morrisey said he has visited several of the communities hit hard by the flooding.
"I have seen firsthand people are hurting very badly," he said. "But I've also seen great generosity, people from across the state and across the nation helping their brothers and sisters here in West Virginia.
"And the next few weeks are going to be critical for West Virginia. But I have confidence that we'll come out of this tougher, stronger and better than before. West Virginians have come together in an amazing way."
Since the state of emergency was declared by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Morrisey's office has extended hours for its consumer protection hotline. It was staffed throughout this past weekend to receive any reports of price gouging, charitable fraud or various scams impacting the disaster area.
"I want to emphasize, however, that the vast majority of people are handling this situation in a responsible manner," Morrisey said, referring to the low number of price-gouging complaints compared to the 2014 chemical spill in Charleston. "We have seen issues, of course. And our investigators are out in the field looking into every complaint."
Morrisey also has directed his office to organize mobile office visits, contact area charities and expedite the approval of any emergency state contract related to flood relief.
The Attorney General made his announcement with Jenkins, who updated the public about FEMA efforts and other key issues on the ground.
“The resiliency of West Virginians and the spirit of community is evident in this tragedy,” Jenkins said during Thursday's press conference. “Everywhere you go, you see people helping strangers, friends, neighbors – anyone who needs a helping hand and a warm meal.
"We still have a long way to go in responding to the storm and the clean-up efforts, and I urge everyone to stay safe and protect themselves from fraud and scams. If you feel you have been the target of a scam, please report it to the Attorney General’s Office and your local law enforcement.”
While Morrisey and his staff can't discuss specific investigations, he said the office has received up to 30 price-gouging complaints that all have been followed. He also said three subpoenas already have been issued in addition to several letters sent to businesses.
He also said his office has reached out to dozens of charities engaged in flood-related fundraising to proactively work with them to avoid any problems in the future and ensure that monies are expended in West Virginia.
He said his office's contract approval team also is ready to give highest priority to any emergency state contract related to flood rehabilitation and relief. The goal is for each contract to be approved within 24 hours of receipt with the ultimate goal of a same-day return. State law requires the Attorney General’s Office to approve the form of any state purchasing contract exceeding $2,500.
The AG's mobile office is visiting affected areas. He said these visits enhance the office’s ability to reach those affected while electric and phone disruptions continue. He urged citizens to ask questions and voice concerns about any issue they see, including charity fraud, storm-related home repair/cleanup scams and/or instances of price gouging.