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Texas Attorney General Charges Two Franchised Hotels
 with Price Gouging During Hurrican Dolly
By Gabriel SaldaNa, Valley Morning Star, Harlingen, TexasMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Nov. 15, 2008 --HARLINGEN -- The Texas Attorney General's Office this week charged two Rio Grande Valley hotels with price gouging during Hurricane Dolly, according to an attorney general news release.

Motel 6 at 205 N. Expressway 77 in Harlingen and Best Western Las Palmas Inn at 609 E. Expressway 83 in Mission raised room rates after a disaster declaration was issued by Gov. Rick Perry on July 22, according to the Attorney General's Office.

The price increase, the news release said, violated special provisions of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, which prohibits vendors from selling or leasing certain necessities at inflated rates after a disaster declaration has been issued.

Investigators found pricing data showing that Motel 6 increased 34 of its 49 room rates by 20 percent after the disaster declaration was made, according to the Attorney General's Office.

Motel 6 front desk clerk Edgar Granados said he was on the job the day after Dolly and remembers prices being higher than usual.

"We were charging a little more but I guess it was to make up for extra guests in the room," he said. "There were a lot of guests with more than four people in their rooms."

The clerk also said he didn't suspect management of intentionally price gouging.

"I don't think that's what the manager had in mind when he rented the rooms," Granados said. "I think he was just making up for the extra people. But we (employees) don't have a say in it. We just charge whatever they tell us to charge."

Messages left with the Harlingen Motel 6, requesting comment from a manager, were not answered.

A statement from Janice Maragakis, vice president of corporate communications for Accor North America, a parent company of Motel 6, said: "These are serious allegations and we are seriously concerned. Motel 6 adheres to all laws and regulations concerning consumers.

This situation involves one of our franchised locations and we are currently investigating this matter."

Investigators also found that Best Western Las Palmas Inn increased rates on 43 of its 44 rooms by 20 percent or more, according to the Attorney General's Office.

A woman who identified herself as a hotel manager at Best Western Las Palmas Inn but who did not want her name used denied the allegation, saying the hotel did not engage in price gouging and said she had no knowledge of the charge. The hotel owner did not respond to a message left with the manager.

Best Western corporate headquarters did not return repeated phone calls or an e-mail message left Friday.

The Attorney General's Office reported that it will seek civil penalties of as much as $20,000 per violation and as much as $250,000 per violation for victims older than 65.

<>The Attorney General's Office encourages Texans who encounter price gouging and other disaster-related "scams" to contact its consumer hotline at 800-252-8011. Charity and home-repair "scams" may also be reported, the news release said. Collected information is relayed directly to agency investigators.

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To see more of the Valley Morning Star, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.valleystar.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, Valley Morning Star, Harlingen, Texas

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