Chief, DA warn public about opportunists

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Chief, DA warn public about opportunistsAs residents of the Indian Wells and Searles Valleys recovery from recent earthquakes, and continue to equip themselves in case seismic incidents continue, Ridgecrest Police Chief Jed McLaughlin and Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer have advised residents to beware of scammers and opportunists during this state of emergency.

These illegal practices can include price-gouging, unlicensed contracting or false charity solicitations.

McLaughlin said that reports have rolled in that businesses in Trona are selling cases of water for $40.

“We have not heard of any instances of price-gouging within the city of Ridgecrest, but if anyone has information about that we ask they report it to RPD immediately so that we can investigate it,” said the chief.

“I have spoken to our DA, Cynthia Zimmer, who assures me that her office will actively prosecute these cases.”

“First of all, price gouging is a crime, and these offenses carry both criminal and civil penalties,” said Zimmer. “Price-gouging is defined as charging more than 10 percent above the retail value of an essential good or service after a state of emergency has been declared. Our governor, Gavin Newsom, declared this state of emergency on July 4, so that means these restrictions will remain in place for 30 days from that declaration.”

She said the penalties for those violations can include up to one year of jail time and up to $10,000 in fines. “These are also Business and Professions Code Violations, which call for separate penalties.”

Zimmer said that she understands that some merchants may be unaware of these laws, “but we have a zero-tolerance policy on this, because these people are taking advantage of people who are victims of mother nature.”

McLaughlin added that people are already reporting individuals identifying themselves as contractors have also been soliciting work to repair damages from the earthquake.

“If someone shows up to your house asking to look at your damages, or offer services, please do your due diligence,” he said.

Residents should check the state contractors website (http://www.cslb.ca.gov/) to ensure individuals are licensed. They can also call the city’s building department (760-499-5000) to make sure individuals are licensed to do business within the city.

“If you cannot verify credentials, please do not do business with them. Report these individuals to the RPD.”

McLaughlin added that more information about the process of home assessments will be available after this afternoon’s 4 p.m. Press Conference.

“Another thing we see post-emergency are people who hold themselves up as charities and solicit contributions,” said Zimmer. “It’s very common for people to say they are collecting money for relief efforts, then pocketing the money. These individuals will also be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

She urged residents to vet charitable organizations carefully, and give only through legitimate avenues. One such resource is charitynavigator.org

“Ridgecrest is a very law-abiding community,” said Zimmer. “What we are expecting are opportunists who may come in from out of town to prey on people.”

Both urged residents to exercise caution and report suspicious activity.

On July 14, a Red Cross public information officer Ryan Cullom alerted the News Review that reports were circulating of a contractor identifying himself as a Red Cross affiliate, offering to assess and repair damages. He said that the Red Cross is not affiliated with contractors, and anyone contacted by someone making such a claim should call RPD at 760-499-5100.”

The city has posted a list of licensed contractors under the “earthquake assistance” link on www.ridgecrest-ca.gov.

Story First Published: 2019-07-07