Hurricane Price Gouging Case Settled for $200,000 in Panhandle

A building repair company will repay consumers more than $200,000 in the largest settlement yet for alleged price gouging related to the four hurricanes that struck the state last year, Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist said Wednesday.

The agreement pushed total restitution in such cases to more than $700,000 with more investigations and settlement negotiations pending.

Garner Construction LLC of Fort Walton Beach also agreed to cease all business operations and it's out-of-state sister companies will not do hurricane-related repairs in Florida for five years as a result of the settlement.

The agreement, however, does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing and the company continues to deny any liability or violation of law.

"Florida citizens suffered serious losses during last year's hurricanes and the last thing they needed were repair companies trying to bleed them for excess profits," Crist said in a news release. "This settlement agreement should remind all Floridians that we will not tolerate profiteering."

Crist's office accused Garner of overcharged consumers in the Florida Panhandle for water mitigation and minor home repairs after Hurricane Ivan struck in September.

Garner performed repairs for 61 individuals and an assisted living facility, Villas of Gulf Breeze, according to records obtained through the state's investigation.

Villas was charged $54,000 but under the settlement will pay only $18,000 for actual work performed, an overcharge of $36,000. In another case, the settlement will reduce an 83-year-old Pensacola Beach resident's bill by $44,000 from $69,000 to $25,000.

Crist's office received 8,911 price gouging complaints related to the 2004 hurricanes. It initiated 58 formal investigations and filed 13 lawsuits against hotels, generator dealers, tree removal companies and other businesses.