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Coronavirus profiteer in Cloquet 'checked on' his rights

Unidentified man found selling respirator masks along Highway 33 in Cloquet.

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A man offers N95 respirator masks for sale out of his vehicle along Minnesota Highway 33 on Sunday, March 15. (Brady Slater / bslater@duluthnews.com)
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A man selling N95 respirator safety masks outside a grocery store lot along state Highway 33 in Cloquet wouldn't give his name on Sunday, but said he looked up whether he could price-gouge or not.

Selling 10- and 20-count boxes of masks for $50 and $99 out of the back of his minivan, he told the News Tribune, "I checked on it."

He declined to give any identifying details when interviewed around 1 p.m.

"Yes, I marked them up; you can't get them at Home Depot, or Menards, not anymore," he said. "I'm just selling what I have."

The man bought masks by the box at The Home Depot more than a month ago, he said, after he was told by someone the masks were being sought after amid the spread of COVID-19 and ensuing pandemic.

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"I'm a tradesman," he said. "I work on water treatment systems. I figured I better stock up."

Last week, warning against scams and opportunists, Attorney General Keith Ellison addressed coronavirus and profiteering.

"Not many people realize that Minnesota doesn't have a law against price gouging, as 30 other states do. I think we should," Ellison said. "I'm glad a bill to ban price-gouging has been introduced in the Minnesota House. I strongly encourage the Legislature to pass it as quickly as possible so that we can protect Minnesota consumers from these despicable practices. Although we can't legally fight price-gouging right now, the more people tell us about it, the more we'll be able advocate for a bill that will allow us to fight it."

Reminded of this, the man asked for News Tribune credentials, and said, "You're not going to get me in trouble, are you?"

After many reports, the Cloquet Police Department checked on the unidentified man, but he was already gone.

"Cloquet City Code 6.6 requires transient merchants and peddlers to apply for a license from the city," Cloquet Interim Police Chief Derek Randall said on social media. "If the person is located, we will check his merchant license status."

This story was updated at 8:41 a.m. March 16 with information from the Cloquet Interim Police Chief Derek Randall. It was originally posted at 2:22 p.m. March 15.

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