WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - A judge on Monday blocked a Lexington-based tree removal company accused of price gouging a Wilmington homeowner following Hurricane Florence from providing tree trimming services, pending the outcome of the state’s lawsuit against the business.
N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein announced the lawsuit against Alva Wilson Lewis, doing business as A1 Tree & Storm Relief, A1 Tree and Storm Damage Relief, and Big Al & Sons Tree Service, on Sept. 28.
The company, which the Better Business Bureau listed as one of its “Dirty Dozen” worst businesses in the state, allegedly tripled an initial quote of $4,000 to remove three trees, according to the lawsuit. The state has also alleged Lewis’ company falsely claimed to be insured, bonded, and a certified arborist.
The judge granted the state’s request for a preliminary injunction against the company, despite Lewis disputing in court that he had done anything wrong.
“Having considered the arguments of counsel, and having reviewed the record in this cause, including the Complaint and the affidavits and other exhibits filed in substantiation thereof, the Court hereby concludes that there is a strong likelihood that the state will prevail in this action against Defendant for price gouging under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 75-38 and engaging in unfair and deceptive trade practices under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 75-1.1,” the judge’s order states.
The order also requires Lewis produce records of all transactions his company has had since the state of emergency was declared in early September.
“We feel extremely confident in our evidence to be able to make the case that (Lewis) violated the law,” Stein said during a phone interview Monday afternoon. “And if that's the case, we're going to get whatever records we can from him to see what other people may have been taken advantage of. And we want to get refunds to all affected customers and we want to get whatever penalties and injunctions are appropriate.”
Asked about other reports of price gouging for Florence-related work, Stein said his office is currently investigating other companies and may take additional legal action in the coming days and weeks.
“It's frustrating, it's infuriating,” Stein said. “I was in the hurricane recovery center (in Jacksonville) talking to folks. One guy said ‘I think I need to have my home torn down.’ Another woman lost her trailer. These are people, they don't know where they're going to sleep in the next couple weeks. So, when you're in that kind of awful place, a place none of us would wish on our worst enemy, to have somebody then come and try to take the little bit of money you have – it's absolutely unacceptable.”
“It’s also against the law and that’s why my office will aggressively enforce the law,” he added.
Note: the company mentioned in this article has no affiliation with A-1 Tree Service, LLC, based in Hampstead.