Oct. 1 2018 10:29 AM

State accuses tree service of bait-and-switch.

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Hurricane Florence has left more than wreckage in its wake; it’s also exposed at least one unscrupulous contractor who was apparently willing to take advantage of the storm’s victims, according to a story published on WRAL-TV’s website.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein has filed a price-gouging lawsuit against Alva Wilson Lewis, the owner of Lexington-based A1 Tree & Storm Relief, A1 Tree and Storm Damage Relief and Big Al & Sons Tree Service, according a written statement.

The suit alleges that Lewis charged a customer in Wilmington more than double the quoted price for post-storm tree removal.

Hurricane Florence deluged a large part of North Carolina for two weeks and brought flooding and heavy rains to the state. Downed trees were just one of its devastating results.

The lawsuit could be one of the first filed by state prosecutors that allege post-storm price gouging.

According to state officials, the company originally estimated that it would cost $4,000 to remove three trees from a customer's property. The price then jumped to $7,000, with the final tab totaling $12,000.

The attorney general's office consider this a bait-and-switch and price-gouging incident, both of which are illegal in the state.

One of Lewis’ three companies, Big Al & Sons Tree Service, had been listed as one of the Better Business Bureau’s “Dirty Dozen” companies in 2015.

The lawsuit also alleges that Lewis falsely claimed that A1 Tree & Storm Relief was insured and bonded and that he is a certified arborist. The state requests that Lewis and his companies be prohibited from conducting any similar business in the state.

Superior Court Judge A. Graham Shirley issued a temporary restraining order against Lewis and his companies as a result, but it’s unclear how long that order will remain 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.”

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