Originally on WRAL.com

September 29, 2018

State Attorney General Josh Stein has filed a price gouging lawsuit against a tree trimming operator who allegedly charged a customer in Wilmington more than double the quoted price for services.

Officials filed the lawsuit on Friday against Alva Wilson Lewis, the owner of A1 Tree & Storm Relief, A1 Tree and Storm Damage Relief and Big Al & Sons Tree Service, according a written statement released by the attorney general's office.

The lawsuit could be one of the first filed by state prosecutors that allege price gouging in the wake of Hurricane Florence that soaked a large part of North Carolina two weeks and brought flooding and heavy rains to the state.

According to state officials, the landscaping company estimated that it would cost $4,000 to remove three trees from a customer's property.

The price then jumped to $7,000 before a final invoice charged the customer $12,000, state officials said.

The attorney general's office said the charges amounted to bait-and-switch and price gouging, which is illegal in North Carolina.

Lewis and his companies are based in Lexington, North Carolina, where Big Al & Sons Tree Service was listed as one of the Better Business Bureau’s “Dirty Dozen” companies in 2015.

The state's lawsuit also accused Lewis' company, A1 Tree & Storm Relief, of falsely claiming to be insured, bonded and a certified arborist.

The lawsuit asks that Lewis and his companies be prohibited from conducting any similar business in the state of North Carolina.

According to state officials, Superior Court Judge A. Graham Shirley granted the state's request for a temporary restraining order against Lewis and his companies as a result of Friday’s lawsuit. It was not clear how long the restraining would be in effect.

“Right now, people in Wilmington are struggling to put their lives back together,” Stein said. “It is outrageous that someone would take advantage of a desperate situation to scam more money. We are asking the court to put a stop to this action – and I hope it will serve as a message to any other would-be price gougers out there. My office will not allow price gouging to go unchecked.”

To date, the North Carolina Department of Justice has received more than 700 complaints about price gouging, the attorney general's office said.