PLEASANTON — A Pleasanton grocery store charged with doubling and tripling its food prices following the COVID-19 outbreak will pay $20,000 to the Alameda County Community Food Bank following a plea deal with prosecutors.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley on Monday announced the deal that will end the case against the Apna Bazar store. Under the plea arrangement, the store pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor price gouging charges. Charges against store owner Rajvinderf Pal Singh were dismissed.
“The law prevents businesses from profiteering during a declared state of emergency,” O’Malley said in a statement. “This case marks the first successful prosecution in Alameda County for price gouging in the time of the pandemic.”
Last May, prosecutors charged Singh and the business at 4040 Pimlico Drive with raising prices of produce and other items in the days after Gov. Gavin Newsom issued his state of emergency March 4, court documents said.
During the early weeks of the pandemic, customers' complaints resulted in an investigation that found increases in prices from 60% to 400% for items including yellow onions, ginger, green beans, instant noodles, tea, chili peppers, pomegranates and red yams.
The District Attorney’s Office and the California Department of Justice charged both Singh and the business with nine misdemeanor counts each of price gouging.
Following Singh’s plea on Monday in Alameda County Superior Court, prosecutors dismissed the remaining seven counts against the business and the nine counts against Singh.
Suzan Bateson, executive director of the county’s food bank, said in a statement that the $20,000 will help to provide thousands of meals to children, adults and seniors.
“This year has been difficult for all of us, and many neighbors have needed a helping hand to ensure that their family members were nourished and remained healthy,” Bateson said.
California’s penal code section 396(b) says that prices during a declared state of emergency and for 30 days following the declaration may not be raised more than 10%. As it stands now, Newsom’s emergency declaration makes it illegal to price gouge on emergency and medical supplies, prosecutors said.
At the time of the charges, Singh told an investigator that he was forced to turn to new suppliers who charged him more to keep his shelves stocked, and he was passing his costs to customers.