Crist Files 2nd Gas Price Gouging Lawsuit

Station allegedly raised price of unleaded 72 cents/gal.

Published in CSP Daily News

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist yesterday filed the state's second lawsuit over price gouging from Hurricane Katrina, accusing a Tallahassee gas station of "unconscionably" raising its gasoline prices 72 cents per gallon during the state of emergency.

Crist's complaint alleges that Island Food Stores Ltd., a Jacksonville-based fuel retailer that owns the Tallahassee station, improperly raised its prices even though the increases were not forced by market conditions at the time.

Island Food Stores owns [image-nocss] and supplies BP/Amoco fuel to the station. Island Food sets prices at its stations' pumps, Crist said. Because of the station's convenient location adjacent to a major interstate leading to and from the hurricane-impacted area, both Hurricane Katrina victims fleeing the storm and emergency personnel trying to reach the affected areas were potential victims of the gouged prices, he added.

Shortly following Katrina's devastation, the AG's Office received more than 1,800 complaints about fuel prices. These complaints prompted Crist to launch a statewide investigation, sending teams of investigators and law enforcement personnel to locations throughout Florida to determine whether the rapid rise in gasoline prices met the legal definition of gouging. While responding to complaints in Tallahassee, investigators noticed the Island Food store's "exceptionally high" prices and discovered that the station allegedly had hiked prices more than 70 cents per gallon for regular unleaded gasoline over a three-day period.

According to Crist, between August 31 and September 1, the price of regular unleaded gasoline sold at the Island Food station increased a total of 62 cents per gallon, although the station had received no delivery of regular unleaded gasoline and encountered no increase in total costs. Midgrade gasoline increased 72 cents per gallon between August 31 and September 2, with no delivery or increase in cost to the station. The station's profit margins tripled for regular unleaded gasoline from August 30 to September 1, and more than doubled for premium gasoline and tripled for midgrade gasoline from August 30 to September 2.

Island Food is charged with violating Florida's price gouging statute, which carries a maximum fine of $1,000 for each occurrence up to a total of $25,000 for multiple violations committed in a single 24-hour period. Additionally, the business is charged with violating Florida's Unfair & Deceptive Trade Practices Act, which carries a penalty of $10,000 or $15,000 for any victims over the age of 60.

As of today, the AG's Office had received close to 4,000 complaints about gasoline prices through its toll-free consumer hotline and email correspondence, it said.

On September 9, Attorney General Crist filed a lawsuit against a Swifty Stars retail gas station in Tallahassee, with allegations similar to those against Island Food Stores. As part of his ongoing investigation into the rising price of gasoline, Crist has also subpoenaed four gasoline distributors seeking records of their deliveries into Florida: Colonial Oil Industries, Murphy Oil USA, Motiva Enterprises and Tate Oil Co.

Click here to view the AG's complaint against Island Food.