CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A lawyer for a Putnam County store owner accused of price gouging during last month's water emergency says his client gave people water during the crisis.
"Mr. Assi was giving away water at his store," said Tom Peyton, attorney for Achraf Assi. "That would seem highly inconsistent with price gouging over a few gallons of Tyler Mountain water."
On Friday, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey filed suit in Putnam Circuit Court alleging that Assi's business, Hurricane-based Mid Valley Mart LLC, unfairly raised the price of Tyler Mountain Spring Water from $1.59 a gallon to $3.39 a gallon the day after the Jan. 9 chemical spill that contaminated drinking water for 300,000 West Virginia American Water customers in nine counties.
Morrisey alleged that Assi, who owns the two stores that allegedly sold water at inflated prices, kept the prices higher for a week following the chemical spill.
But Peyton said Assi had a sign up at at least one location offering to allow local residents to fill up water jugs for free from his store, which was not served by West Virginia American Water and had a safe water supply.
Assi, who also lives in a home with safe water, also let people use water at his house, Peyton said.
Monday was a state holiday, and calls to Morrisey's office were not answered. In a news release Friday, the attorney general said, "Our office worked diligently in the hours and days after the chemical spill to educate both citizens and businesses about the state's price-gouging laws. At that time, we pledged to aggressively pursue any entity that artificially inflated prices to take advantage of citizens in a time of need. In this case, it doesn't appear that our warnings were heeded."
Peyton said he was also upset with the way Morrisey's office handled the lawsuit, which he said came as a surprise.
Peyton said he first received a subpoena from Morrisey's office earlier in January asking for information about the allegations. He said he responded Jan. 24 with hundreds of documents and store receipts, and said Assi was cooperating with the investigation.
He said that was the last he heard of the incident until Morrisey filed suit in circuit court last week. He said Morrisey never offered to reach an agreement over the allegations or try to resolve the matter before going to court.
The lawyer also said Morrisey apparently leaked his intentions to the press before filing the suit, but didn't bother to let Assi know.
Peyton said Morrisey should have had the courtesy to try to resolve the issue, or at least let him know Assi was about to be taken to court. "That's highly unusual, except in the realm of politics," Peyton said.Reach Rusty Marks at rustyma...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.