By Jessica Dye
NEW YORK, Nov 8 (Reuters) - Brooklyn District Attorney
Charles Hynes said on Thursday his office would probe claims
that hotels, gas stations and other businesses illegally hiked
prices or scammed customers in the wake of superstorm Sandy.
Hynes said he would impanel a special grand jury to
investigate reports of skyrocketing prices and other frauds,
such as fake charities pocketing storm-related contributions and
bogus construction companies accepting payment for repair work
they didn't plan on doing.
"The sad truth about a tragedy is that while it brings out
the very best in people, it can also bring out the worst," Hynes
said in a statement. "To raise the price of a hotel, as people
seek emergency shelter, is just unconscionable."
Sandy made landfall in the Northeastern United States on
Oct. 29, wreaking havoc along a stretch of coastline from
southern New Jersey to New York's Long Island. Parts of New York
City, including low-lying Red Hook in Brooklyn, suffered
extensive damage from hurricane-force winds and flooding.
The storm knocked out power to millions of homes in the city
and the surrounding tri-state area, forcing some to seek shelter
in hotels, and fears of a fuel shortage created long lines at
Local, state and federal prosecutors have warned residents
to be on the lookout for scams, price gouging and other illegal
activity related to the storm.
On Monday, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said
his office had initiated an investigation into post-Sandy price
gouging after receiving hundreds of complaints from consumers.
The local and state investigations are being conducted
separately, said Brooklyn district attorney spokesman Jonah
Bruno. The Brooklyn probe is expected to go beyond price
inflation and cover a wide range of storm-related scams, he
Bruno said the grand jury would investigate several specific
reports of potential illegal activity the office had already
received but declined to name the companies under scrutiny or
the nature of the allegations. The grand jury, which will
convene Monday, also will examine additional complaints the
office receives in the coming days, he said.
It was not immediately clear whether other district
attorneys in and around New York City had plans to launch
similar probes. Queens prosecutors have charged at least 20
people with various storm-related crimes, including looting and
violence in gas lines, a spokesman said. The Queens district
attorney's office is continuing to monitor storm fallout but
believes most of the incidents it has heard about are isolated,
not systemic, a spokesman said. A spokesman for the Staten
district attorney said the office would prosecute crimes arising
from Sandy the same as at other times.
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