Saturday, April 22, 2000

No contest plea ends pricing case

BY Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The owner of three closed Home Quarters stores pleaded no contest Friday to five counts of misrepresentation of price, ending a lengthy battle with the Hamilton County Auditor's office over inaccuracy of scanning equipment at the checkout lines.

        The defunct chain of home-improvement stores was fined $4,000 on each count for a total of $20,000, by Hamilton County Municipal Judge John West. The fines were the maximum penalty the judge could hand out.

        But attorneys for HQ said to pay the fine, they would have to divert money they're using to pay off their creditors. So Judge West suspended the fine and said if the company would return to business in Hamilton County, it would have to follow a special pricing policy to ensure items rang up at the cash register with correct prices.

        The three stores were owned by a bankrupt home-improvement chain. At one time, HQ operated more than 50 stores nationwide. It was part of the third-largest chain of home-improvement stores, which included Hechinger and Builders Square.

        Auditor Dusty Rhodes asked the prosecutor's office to investigate in 1998, based on a year's worth of inspections at three stores: Madison Road in Oakley, Glenway Crossing in Green Township and Princeton Pike in Springdale.

        As many as 30 of 100 items rang incorrectly at the register, according to Mr. Rhodes' office. A state official in charge of weights and measures said the HQ example was the worst he had witnessed in years.


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