- The Washington Times
Monday, March 9, 2020

Attorney General William P. Barr said Monday the Justice Department will aggressively prosecute anyone who jacks up the price for sterile gloves, face masks or other health essentials in short supply because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Individuals or companies that take advantage of the outbreak by colluding with competitors to rig bids or fix prices could face criminal charges, the Justice Department said in a statement.

“The Department of Justice stands ready to make sure that bad actors do not take advantage of emergency response efforts, healthcare providers or the American people during this crucial time,” Mr. Barr said. “I’m committed to ensuring the departments’ resources are available to combat any wrongdoing and protect the public.”

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The department’s Procurement Collusion Strike Force, which coordinates its response to antitrust crimes, is already on high alert for potential price gouging.

Mr. Barr’s statement comes on the same day a lobbying group representing some of America’s best-known consumer products sent the department a letter requesting aggressive action in the wake of surging demand for public health products.

The Consumer Brands Association — which counts Colgate-Palmolive, Coca-Cola, General Mills and Clorox among its members — warned prices for personal health products could increase over the coming months.

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“If price gouging continues over the coming months, more and more Americans will become unwilling and/or unable to pay excessive prices for these products,” Bryan Zumwalt, the group’s executive director, wrote. “This will decrease the likelihood that individuals will take recommended and necessary preventive actions.”

“It is vital that DOJ notify the public that it will work with state and local law enforcement partners to prosecute sellers who engage in this illegal activity,” the letter continued.

Later Monday, the Consumer Brands Association issued a statement saying it appreciated Mr. Barr’s “swift response” to its letter.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the administration on solutions to protect consumers,” the group said in the statement.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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