- Associated Press - Monday, May 5, 2014

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - A New Jersey landscaping company has been charged with price gouging during Superstorm Sandy.

The state’s Division of Consumer Affairs announced Monday it has filed action against a Monmouth County landscaping business called Stephen’s Landscaping for allegedly defrauding customers by charging exorbitant prices for generators and illegally selling gasoline.

The state attorney general’s office said the Long Branch-based retailer, which operates as Stephen’s Garden Center, allegedly sold $176,950 worth of generators, including models that had been recalled due to potential fire hazards.

A message left Monday at a listing for the company was not immediately returned.

The attorney general’s office alleges that between October 30 and November 3, 2012 - days after a state of emergency was declared due to the storm - the company sold the generators for prices ranging from $800 to $1,550, representing markups of between approximately 82 percent and 155 percent.

The business also allegedly charged an additional $100 assembly fee for 77 of the 133 generators sold at inflated prices, according to the attorney general’s office. Multiple consumers complained to state authorities that they were told the assembly fee was mandatory, and involved a worker removing the generator from a box and attaching handles and two wheels. Prosecutors say Stephen’s Landscaping earned $7,700 in from the allegedly unnecessary assembly fees.

The complaint filed against the company also alleges that during the five days immediately after Sandy struck New Jersey, Stephen’s Landscaping sold a total of 44 five-gallon gas cans, filled with gasoline, at $50 per can - even though the company was not licensed by the New Jersey Division of Taxation to engage in the retail sale of motor fuel.

State officials say the company also sold generators that had been subject to a safety recall.

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