Two Tennessee brothers who stockpiled 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer have avoided prosecution and a fine, but will not recoup the thousands of dollars they spent on the supplies under the terms of a price-gouging settlement that the state attorney general announced this week.
The brothers, Matt Colvin and Noah Colvin, donated the supplies last month to people in Tennessee and Kentucky, which the authorities said Tuesday was acceptable as restitution and was a factor in the settlement terms in the highly publicized case.
The siblings, who live outside Chattanooga, were widely vilified after Matt Colvin 36, told The New York Times last month that he and his brother, who is 21, had canvassed dollar stores and other retailers across Tennessee and Kentucky for hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.
Colvin said at the time that he had sold 300 bottles of hand sanitizer on Amazon for $8 to $70 each, multiple times higher than what he had paid. The next day, Amazon pulled the additional items that he had listed from its retail platform, along with those of thousands of other sellers.
"Disrupting necessary supplies during an unprecedented pandemic is a serious offense," Herbert H. Slatery III, Tennessee's attorney general, said in a statement Tuesday. "It became clear during our investigation that the Colvins realized this, and their prompt cooperation and donation led to an outcome that actually benefited some consumers."
Clay T. Lee, a lawyer for the brothers, said in an email Wednesday that his clients had agreed to donate all the supplies to their church for distribution to local emergency responders before the state began its investigation. He said the brothers appreciated the swift resolution of the matter.
Matt Colvin, a former Air Force technical sergeant, said last month that he had received hate mail and death threats after The Times published an article about the stockpile.
In Tennessee, a state price-gouging law prohibits individuals or businesses from charging "unreasonable" prices for essential goods or services in direct response to a disaster, whether it occurs in the state or elsewhere.
Under the settlement terms, the brothers agreed not to engage in any further price gouging during the coronavirus health crisis.
A week after the brothers first made headlines, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that directed the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute cases of price gouging and hoarding of critical supplies that included face masks and sanitizing products.
Last month, a Brooklyn man was charged with lying to federal agents about price gouging. The authorities said the man, Baruch Feldheim, 43, had stockpiled 192,000 N95 respirators, 130,000 surgical masks and nearly 600,000 medical-grade gloves, which were redirected to medical workers in New York and New Jersey.