Items bought in coronavirus-connected price gouging operation.
Items bought in coronavirus-connected price gouging operation. Photos via San Diego County Sheriff’s Department

An undercover investigation into suspected online price gouging in the San Diego area amid the coronavirus pandemic resulted this week in eight arrests of people allegedly selling health-related products at exorbitant cost, authorities reported Wednesday.

In response to California’s state of emergency over the deadly disease, deputies at the Fallbrook Sheriff’s Substation on Tuesday monitored peer-to-peer sales websites and internet applications, identifying “a large number” of private parties involved in the crime, said Lt. Arnold Aldana.

The sellers allegedly were offering such hygiene products as masks, gloves, disinfectants and toilet paper for as much as 20 times their ordinary retail price on such websites as Facebook, Craigslist and OfferUp.

Plainclothes deputies spent about eight hours meeting with the suspects across the county — mostly in public places such as malls and commercial parking lots — verifying their intention to make the sales and taking them into custody. The detainees were then cited and released on their own recognizance.

California law prohibits excessive and unjustified increases in prices for essential consumer goods and services during a declared emergency. Violations are a misdemeanor punishable by a jail term of up to one year or a fine as high as $10,000, or both.

Items bought in coronavirus-connected price gouging operation. Photo via San Diego County Sheriff’s Department

Arrested during the sting operation were Eric Marc Duran, 58, of Rainbow; David Gold, 53, of Escondido; Dale Gottschalk, 53, of El Cajon; Chastity Lynn Long-Ross, 45, of San Marcos; David Noriani, 35, of San Diego; Spencer Ryan Silva, 26, of Escondido; Richard McCake Simpson, 47, of Vista; and Tony Dai Ta, 53, of Poway.

— City News Service