CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The attorney for a Putnam County convenience store owner claims state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is using his client to try to score political points and generate publicity for himself.

“The way that he has played this to the press, it appears to me, in my opinion, to be (him) using this as a political tool for some reason,” said Tom Peyton, a Nitro attorney, who represents Achraf Assi, the owner of two Mid Valley Mart convenience stores in Hurricane.

Last Friday, Morrisey filed a civil complaint in Putnam County Circuit Court against Assi and an unnamed manager alleging price gouging in the wake of the Jan. 9 chemical leak on the Elk River when 300,000 residents in parts of nine counties were told not to drink their tap water.

It’s a civil lawsuit based on alleged consumer protection violations.  In the filing, Morrisey said the price of a one gallon jug of Tyler Mountain spring water was $1.59 during the ten days before the water emergency at the Mid Valley Marts, but jumped to $3.39 on Jan. 10.

State law prohibits businesses from increasing prices for consumer goods and services by more than a set percentage during declared states of emergency.

Assi told WSAZ Television the $1.59 price cited was for a liter of water, not a gallon because the store only started selling gallon jugs in the days after the water emergency to meet increased demand.  Additionally, he said he was allowing people to fill up gallon jugs for free from taps at the stores which are located within the Putnam Public Service District.

Only West Virginia American Water Company customers fell under the do-not-use water order.

Peyton, a guest on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline,” called some of Morrisey’s actions “unusual for a civil case.”

He said, on Assi’s behalf, he provided receipts to the AG’s office on Jan. 24th after Assi received an investigative subpoena, which is confidential.  Peyton said, despite his request for a professional courtesy, he was not notified of Morrisey’s filing before it happened.

However, Peyton said, it appeared many news outlets were tipped off since a television camera from WSAZ Television was present when Assi received his notification of the lawsuit.  Peyton said that typically does not happen with civil cases because they are not made public until they’re filed.

“There were things that were done, in the manner in which this case was handled, that was out of the ordinary,” said Peyton.  “I wouldn’t ordinarily run to the press on a civil case but, unfortunately, Mr. Morrisey has instigated that process himself.”

Morrisey spoke with MetroNews on Friday after the complaint was filed.  “I am not going to tolerate people taking advantage of our citizens during times of emergency,” he said of the complaint filing.  “This is a bad apple and it’s important that the citizens of our state know that their attorney general is going to enforce the law.”

Peyton said Assi’s livelihood is on the line.  “Mr. Assi now has the problem with the press being apprised of the fact that the attorney general, who has some clout or should, has accused of him of price gouging which could have a devastating effect upon his business,” said Peyton.

“Serious allegations have been made by the attorney general, so we need to put in the time, review the employees who work in Mr. Assi’s store, review their records, maybe some surveillance video and try and figure out what happened here.”

In all, Morrisey recently told state lawmakers his office received more than 150 complaints of alleged price gouging during the water emergency and investigations into some of those complaints were continuing.

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Comments

  • Callum

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  • hilljack

    If I were the store owner I would counter sue for racial profiling. Why has Morrisey not gone after any other stores? Why won't he go after the big oil companies that raise the prices when ever the sun shines.

  • Michael

    The disgusting part of this story is that Morrisey is so thirsty for attention he actually tipped off the press before he filed the suit. Are you kidding me? What a tool.

  • rick

    Let the case play out in court on it's merits but it appears the AG is doing a little grand standing.

  • jay zoom

    if this store owner is found guilty of the charges against him the public should boycott both stores for the duration that this man owns the stores. gather up a couple hundred people in the area and raise cain in the parking lot with signs and such. might need a permit though

    • Big Bob-E

      Sounds like the conservative Christian thing to do...you grab the pick forks and Larry will light the torches!! Only in West Virginia....

  • Larry

    It seems pretty simple to me, if they have a receipt for the $1.59 water and one for the $3.39 price, it's cut and dry. By the way, Mr. Peytons father, a staunch liberal, who has very, very socialistic leanings, is on the radio on 580 am every Thursday, using it as a "political tool". I'm sure the apple didn't fall far from the tree, and his son has a great disdain for Republicans as well.

  • Independent View

    It appears to this poster that the "grandstander" here may be AARON.
    And, price gouging applies to all 55 counties of WV, not just the nine affected counties.For certain, if bottled water was selling for $5/gallon in Harrison County, I-79 would have been gridlock caused by those rushing to buy it at any price.
    As to the AG signing onto the suit against the EPA, I say sickem! It's about time that we had an AG that acts in the interests of West Virginians instead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers' money handing out political trinkets.
    Most of the posters are clueless as to the history, which spans 20+ years of the debate regarding farm runoff in the mountain and panhandle regions of WV. Research the subject and its history before popping off about something you know little or nothing about except what you just read in a couple of paragraphs of this article.
    Finally, Mr. Payton is lamblasting the AG for using the media regarding the alleged price gouging. Isn't Mr. Peyton just doing the same thing and somehow that's acceptable?

    • Aaron

      I hardly think expressing my opinion is grandstanding, particularly when you consider the cases in which this AG could go after companies if he so chose. For instance, if Sheetz or Go Mart's prices were outside the percentage increase, do you think he would go after them? How about Kroger or Wal-Mart?

      Sorry but I believe this case is nothing more then the AG pinpointed a company and to be honest, I don't think the owners last name was an accident.

  • Hillboy

    and in other water related news involving Morrisey...

    Earlier this month, Morrisey, on behalf of all West Virginians, signed on to a lawsuit along with 20 other state attorney generals to block the Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Plan. The suit was brought against the Obama administration by the Farm Bureau. The Farm Bureau's rationale was that if the federal government was successful in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay that they might target other watersheds for restoration that are polluted by farm runoff, such as the Mississippi River. The 21 attorney generals, along with the Fertilizer Institute, the National Pork Producers Council, and the National Chicken Council, filed as friends of the court in support of the Farm Bureau.

    While it doesn't seem to have gotten much attention by the WV media, the irony of the WV attorney general signing on to a lawsuit to stop the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay, before the WV water crisis has even ended, has not escaped the notice of the national media. Of the six states that contribute flow to the Chesapeake Bay, West Virginia is the only state whose attorney general signed on to the lawsuit.

    • The bookman

      The AG's filing is on behalf of good stewards like Ms. Alt in the Potomac watershed. This isn't a new issue of concern for agriculture in the Eastern Panhandle, although it may be new to you.

      • Hillboy

        You are correct---it is not a new issue. Watermen on the bay have been dealing with a decline in the health of the bay for decades. Farm runoff isn't the only contributor of excess nutrients, but it is a big one.

        If the filing is on behalf of good stewards, as you say, if successful, it will certainly benefit those who are not good stewards as well.

        • The bookman

          But the converse of your statement would also apply. The burdensome over-regulation of the EPA will forever damage the livelihood of multi-generational farmers who have acted appropriately and with high regard for their environment. Ms. Alt is but an example of such stewardship. And in Federal Court the EPA was shown to have overstepped its duty. Everyone wants clean air and clean water. But we also want air conditioning and running water. There has to be a balance between industry and regulation.

          • Hillboy

            For the most part, the Chesapeake Bay Initiative is being carried out by the USDA, not EPA. And, it is being done in the way USDA usually works with farmers--by identifying problems areas, working with farmers to voluntarily learn best management programs and providing funding to the farmers to implement them. And, that is too burdensome to allow it to continue?

    • Hillboy

      Earl Ray Tomblin's comment regarding the lawsuit: "Last time I checked chicken, pig, and cow manure don't smell like licorice, so no reason to be concerned."

      • Wirerowe

        To be precise the lawsuit is to block a specific cleanup plan of the Chesapeake bay.and not as you suggest to block the cleanup of the Chesapeake bay. Maybe there is a better plan.

        • Hillboy

          Are they suggesting an alternative plan?

          • Hillboy

            I think so. Here is the link to the WV Watershed Implementation Plan submitted to EPA: http://www.wvca.us/bay/files/bay_documents/253_WV_WIP_Final-Phase_II_03292012.pdf

            If you read through it most of the activities as they affect farmers are voluntary and incentive based, i.e. the farmer gets funding to make changes. The only agricultural activity that EPA has much regulatory oversight over are concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). EPA does have some enforcement capabilities for these facilities but they do not have much in common with the family farm that most people think of.

          • Aaron

            From what I read early HIllboy, the EPA is attempting to dictate exactly how the states allocate their TMDL's, giving the states very little flexibility.

            Am I mistaken?

          • Hillboy

            I'm not sure what you are saying Aaron. The TMDL sets the diet goals. It does not dictate how the states must meet that goal. That is done through the Watershed Implementation Plans, which are put together by each of the 6 bay states and DC. EPA did have input but if you read them you will see there was a lot of flexibility about how they can go about meeting the goals, and not really much in the way of enforcement if the goals are not met.

          • Aaron

            They're suggesting the states be given the right to suggest a better one.

            Liken it to a diet Hillboy. If your doctor tells you that you can only have 2000 calories a day, you can live with that. But what if he tells you what specifically you can consume, when you can specifically consume it and where specifically you can consume it, that's a bit much, don't you think.

            That is the stance the EPA has taken with the Total Maximum Daily Load standards for WV, VA, PA, DE, NY and DC.

  • Mason County Contrarian

    Tacky Morrisey Reelection Campaign Slogan #6 (an ongoing series): "Patrick Morrisey: Not Doin' The Math 'Cause It Didn't Add Up in New Joizee!"

  • Wirerowe

    Mr. Payton Did your client charge the prices that the AG alleges or did he not?

    • The bookman

      Agreed wire. A cursory search places the value of a gallon jug of water at or near $1.25. If he was actually selling it for nearly 3 times current retail, where is the outrage over the obvious price gouge? Although I don't think the AG is above taking full advantage of the opportunity to make his grand stand, methinks Harvey's protege doth protest too much in his efforts to change the dynamics of the argument. We shall see!

      • Wirerowe

        Bookman thank you for the correction in my math. Mr. Morrisey claims to have investigated 150 cases with more possible charges. If the facts are as presented in this case, I would be very surprised if any of the 150 charged as outlandish prices as Mr. Peyton's client,

    • Aaron

      It doesn't matter as they did not sell gallons prior to the incident. They brought in gallons specifically to meet demand, thus he could have charged twice what he did had he chose. Additionally, given that he was not I the effected area, how does the state of emergency apply?

      • The bookman

        Wire is correct, Aaron. I couldn't haul 10,000 gallons of water to Elkview and sell it to wayward souls in search of clean water for $3 a gallon just because I had no previous record of doing so.

        • Aaron

          Why? If you invest in it, it's yours to do with as you please, is it not. We will have to agree to disagree on this one.

          • Wirerowe

            Oh heck bookman let's go together and buy some steaks and have him over.

          • The bookman

            Ok...you can still come over for dinner...Kentucky Fried Chicken!

      • Wirerowe

        On the surface at least to me what you say doesn't matter. If during a crisis someone in proximity to the crisis is charging double the market price, it is gouging. I compliment Mr. Assi for knowing the difference between a liter and a gallon and his allegation that he gave away water for free but it appears to me to be price gouging whether the AG is a republican or democrat.

        • Aaron

          There was no crisis in Teays Valley. Their water was not effected. If some in Huntington sold the water for a dime more than the allowed percentage, should they be charged? What about Point Pleasant or Parkersburg? How about Ashland, should the USAG get involved and charge them with gouging? I'm sorry but on this one, we disagree.

  • Aaron

    As someone who thought our previous AG's actions warranted a legal investigation, this crap by AG Morrisey is garbage. I thought it was BS to begin with but in learning of the AG's actions, it's clear to me that he's grandstanding. Hopefully, someone will slap him down before the voters do. This is one office that should not be used for political gains or retribution.

    • Anna

      In my opinion we the people of hurricane have been good to mr. Assi and his cousin Gus that started the business! There's no excuse for him to mark up a gallon of water to 3.59. You mr Peyton saying he could because he hadn't carried gallons before is morally wrong!! You don't profit off people when there down!! I for one will never spend a penny of my money at either store again! And I hope the people of hurricane will repay him in the same way! I hope he has to pay for this! It may have not been illegal but the good people that patronize there businesses were screwed!

  • Brian

    Politicians are scumbags. Everything a political office holder or candidate does is all about scoring political points. However, the AG has a solid case on this one and is right to pursue it, even though that probably isn't the real reason why he chose to do it. He isn't doing it because it's right; he's doing it for politics, but it's still something he is supposed to be doing.

  • Big Bob-E

    Patrick Morrisey is a carpet-bagger who is little more than a shill for the big drug companies. He was running to find every T.V. camera on the day the news broke of the chemical spill in Charleston...shameless!!!