Jackson County Price Gouging

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Hurricane Dennis forced millions of people in the Panhandle to evacuate their homes for safer dwellings. Unfortunately, some businesses may have seen that as an opportunity to take advantage of evacuees.

The sign says low rates and a free breakfast, but some of the guests of the Ramada Limited in Marianna this past weekend say the rates they paid were anything but low.

Ashwin Patel, hotel owner/manager, says, "We have a regular rate we charge, but this time we charge a little bit higher and somebody complain and the investigators came and took all of my invoices."

Ashwin Patel is the owner and manager of this hotel and after Hurricane Dennis' evacuation, he's now facing price gauging charges from the Department of Consumer Services.

"Not too many rooms left, that's why we charge them a little bit higher. Other than like we have behind the door we have $85 charge, so we just run $70 to $75 room rate we charge them, but some people we charge $90."

But some customers reported being charged over $100 a night as Hurricane Dennis approached. That's a lot higher than the normal $65 rate.

Friday the state filed 38 counts of price gouging against Patel and the Ramada Limited. State Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson says his office intends to send a message.

"Bronson says, "This is the first time I have a problem. I've been running the last six years and you know hurricane season, I don't have a problem like that."

If found guilty, Patel faces up to a $10,000 fine on each price gouging count. That could mean a $380,000 fine.

If you think you've been a victim of price gouging, call the Consumer Services hotline at 1-800-HELP-FLA or 1-800-800-435-7352.