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Andrew victims can get back at price gougers

MIAMI -- The misery index rises daily in South Florida as price gougers move into neighborhoods devastated by Hurricane Andrew, hawking $5 bags of ice and $999 generators.

Kathy Harvey used what little gasoline she had to drive from her South Dade home in search of milk and ice to cool the medication for her 19-month-old twins.

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One man, selling goods from his car, asked $3 for a $1.89 can of Spam.

'Mister, I can't afford it,' Harvey said. 'My food stamps got blown away.'

Up the road Harvey found a man who would sell her a $1 bag of ice for $5, telling her it was 'five bags in one.'

'They're taking advantage of this disaster. Somebody needs to get them,' Harvey said of the growing number of price-gougers who have infiltrated the area, looking for a quick buck.

Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth is hot on the trail of such vendors.

'I'll tell you anyone who sells ice at $5 a bag or gasoline for 50 cents a gallon more than normal is just as deplorable as looters,' Butterworth said.

Butterworth has 40 investigators in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties to pick up on complaints.

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'We'll issue the alleged violator an invitation to go to court and tell the judge why a bag of ice that was $1 only last week is now $5. If the judge decides I'm right he'll owe us up to $10,000 for each offense. If he can show there's a legitimate reason for the increase, then he's off the hook,' Butterworth said.

Subpoenas have been issued against nine lumber suppliers and others are pending against sellers of consumer goods. Butterworth's office has received more than 100 complaints about price-gouging since Monday's hurricane.

Among the suspects is a Miami electronics store that, before the storm,required anyone buying a battery to first buy an appliance. A motel advertised rooms at $35 per night on a billboard on the Florida Turnpike but when people showed up to rent a room, the price was $120.

A rental company that normally leased trucks for $19 per day asked $100 per day and $400 at one location after the storm.

A gas station was found selling a 5-gallon can of gasoline for $30 and a security company was reported to the state for charging $80 to replace a battery it usually replaces free of charge.

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Home Depot in Miami is restricting the sale of generators to ensure price gougers don't buy up large quantities at the regular price of $547 and then sell them in South Dade for almost twice as much.

One man was selling them for $999. 'We're here to help out,' he said.

Charlotte Williams of Perrine said an offer of free food turned out to be a nightmare.

She said all of the canned hams and beans were given out first to people in their 20s and 30s who turned around and sold them for $5 and $10 per can.

'I think it's awful. They should lock them up,' Williams aid.

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