ST. LOUIS ( -- The Missouri Attorney General sent a cease and desist letter to three St. Louis-area businesses allegedly price gouging customers looking for face masks. But the business owners accused say the accusations are false. 

Complaints were made against BWell Pharmacy LLC, on Chippewa in South City, for selling N95 face masks for $20 each. The typical retail price at Home Depot or CVS is $1.07 to $5.99.

Eric Schmitt’s office said the Padda Institute Center for Interventional Pain Management, also on Chippewa in South City, tried to sell a patient a $25 N95 mask after a recent appointment.

Dr. Gurpreet Padda contacted News 4 saying the clinic doesn't sell N95 masks, has never sold them and doesn't sell any retail products.

In an email to Schmitt's office, Padda said, "If a patient reported they were offered a N95 mask for sale from the Center for Interventional Pain Management, this would be an inaccurate statement."

Padda said he contacted the attorney general after receiving the cease and desist letter but has not heard back except to say they had received his response. 

"Our main focus right now, because we're getting so many complaints, is to make sure the practice stops. We've been in contact with those businesses and we'll review all the options on the table but the most important thing right now is that when we see it, we want to stop it. And that's what happened today," Schmitt said. 

The third business accused of hiking prices is Olive Supermarket in University City. The attorney general received a complaint that the store was selling 50-packs of “medical Isolation masks” for $50. The typical retail price for a 50-pack of masks ranges from $5.50 and $9.74.

But the owners of Olive Supermarket and BWell Pharmacy are disputing these claims. 

John Jiang who owns Olive Supermarket said he donated the vast majority of his masks to Washington University Medical doctors working in the ER. The leftovers he sold for $1 each at his shop. He paid .37 cents for each mask plus international express shipping. 

The CEO of BWell Pharmacy also says they are losing money on the sale of the N95 masks and the price gouging is happening at the manufacturing level. According to an invoice provided by the pharmacy, it costs them $13 per mask or $255 for a box of 20. 

"Due to the lack of supply, we were excited to be able to even find these N95 mask so our patients could stay safe," explained Syed Haider. "It was quite shocking to receive a cease letter without any prior communication or due diligence by the Attorney General."

We’re going to continue to investigate these instances and work with companies and individuals across the state to ensure that price gouging is rooted out and stopped," said Attorney General Schmitt.

The Attorney General's office said they have received over 800 complaints of price gouging.

You can report price gouging by calling the Consumer Protection hotline at 800-392-8222 or go online here.

Copyright 2020 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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