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Tennessee brothers donate stockpiled hand sanitizers, still not ‘off the hook’ legally

Screengrab, Matt Colvin – WBIR

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Ah, the perils of trying to capitalize on a pandemic.

Two Tennessee brothers who stockpiled nearly 18,000 bottles of hand sanitizer in the quest to sell the product at marked-up prices have succumbed to the fury that erupted when there scheme was foiled.

Instead of profiting on the misery of others, Matt and Noah Colvin ended up donating much of their hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes inventory, according to the New York Times.

The brothers bought the products from stores around Chattanooga, Tenn., and parts of Kentucky. With grocery shelves empty and people in a near panic, Matt Colvin was selling the sanitizer online for between $8 and $70 each, well above the market price, the Times reported.

However, it wasn’t long before Amazon and eBay suspended his seller accounts.

“It was never my intention to keep necessary medical supplies out of the hands of people who needed them,” Matt Colvin told the newspaper. “That’s not who I am as a person. And all I’ve been told for the last 48 hours is how much of that person I am.”

Colvin said he has received hate mail and even death threats, but feigned ignorance in knowing that stores would run out of the products.

“I’ve been buying and selling things for 10 years now. There’s been hot product after hot product. But the thing is, there’s always another one on the shelf,” he said. “When we did this trip, I had no idea that these stores wouldn’t be able to get replenished.”

On Sunday, volunteers from a local church place about two-thirds of Colvin’s supply onto a truck, which will distribute it to local people in need, according to the Times.

The other third was reportedly seized by the Tennessee attorney general’s office and will be handed over to authorities in Kentucky for distribution.

As for whether this gets the brothers “off the hook legally,” the answer appears to be no — price gouging in the face of emergencies is illegal.

“I just want to make clear that donating the sanitizers does not mean they are off the hook legally,” said Samantha Fisher, Director of Communications for the Tennessee Attorney General, in response to an inquiry from WRCB reporter Hunter Hoagland. “If evidence establishes they engaged in price gouging we will seek appropriate penalties.”

The responses to the tweet show that many people don’t seem to grasp the difference between jack up prices and price gouging during emergencies — on Friday, President Trump announced that he was declaring a national emergency, and local authorities across America are following suit.

Here’s a quick sampling of responses from Twitter:

At the same time, there was a large faction that had no sympathy for the brothers:

Tom Tillison

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