Coronavirus: Tennessee man who hoarded 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer donates them

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — A Tennessee man’s idea of collecting 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer and then selling them online turned out to be a washout. Now, he is making a clean break, donating them so to people in need can receive the supplies.

Matt Colvin, an Amazon seller from Chattanooga, Tennessee, donated two-thirds of the supplies Sunday to an area church, just as the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office began investigating him for alleged price gouging, The New York Times reported.

Colvin helped church volunteers load the sanitizers and antibacterial wipes into a truck. Officials from the attorney general’s office took the rest of the items and plan to give them to the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office since Colvin bought some of the products in that state, the newspaper reported.

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The church plans to distribute the products to first responders, including the Chattanooga Police Department, Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office and Chattanooga Fire Department, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported.

Church officials wanted to remain anonymous, Colvin said.

“They’re worried about the backlash,” Colvin told the newspaper. “I don’t blame them.”

Colvin and his brothers had gone to stores in rural areas of Tennessee and Kentucky, cleaning out stores of sanitizers and wipes in an effort to profit off the COVID-19 panic, the Times reported.

Colvin marked up 300 of the bottles and sold them on Amazon for between $8 and $70 apiece, telling the Times it was “crazy money."

However, on March 5 the company removed Colvin’s listings. EBay followed suit, and Colvin suddenly was sitting on top of a massive amount of inventory. He also found himself the target of internet scorn and even some death threats, the Times Free Press reported.

One email he shared with the Times said, “Your behavior is probably going to end up with someone killing you and your wife and your children.”

“At the end of the day, I’m sorry I bought all this stuff, not just because of how it’s affected me but because of how things have changed since I bought it,” Colvin told the newspaper Sunday. “I know I’m splitting hairs here, but I wasn’t selling this stuff after March 5. If I had known how things would be now, I wouldn’t have touched any of this. There’s no way.”

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Meanwhile, an investigation of Colvin and his 21-year-old brother, Noah Colvin, is ongoing, according to a release from the Tennessee attorney general.

“We will not tolerate price gouging in this time of exceptional need, and we will take aggressive action to stop it,” Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III’s office said in a statement. “During this pandemic, we ask that you report suspicious activity to the Division of Consumer Affairs and refrain from threatening or hostile communication with individuals or businesses you may suspect are price gouging.”

Under Tennessee law, the attorney general’s office can stop price gouging and seek refunds for consumers, the Times Free Press reported. The courts can also impose penalties up to $1,000 per violation, the newspaper reported.

Donating the items may not prevent prosecution against the Colvin brothers, WRCB reported.

“I just want to make clear that donating the sanitizers does not mean they are off the hook legally," Samantha Fisher, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office, told the television station. “If evidence establishes they engaged in price gouging we will seek appropriate penalties.”

“It was never my intention to keep necessary medical supplies out of the hands of people who needed them,” Colvin told the Times “That’s not who I am as a person. And all I’ve been told for the last 48 hours is how much of that person I am.”