Three N.J. Station Owners Charged With Pricing Violations After Hurricane Irene

No evidence of gouging, but frequency of price changes violated law

Published in CSP Daily News

NEWARK, N.J. -- The owners of three New Jersey gas stations have been charged with allegedly raising gasoline prices multiple times within a 24-hour period, in violation of the state's motor fuels law, immediately following Hurricane Irene earlier this month. State Office of Weights & Measures (OWM) inspectors issued summonses to a Delta station in Trenton, a Lukoil station in Cherry Hill and a CITGO station in Rio Grande.

The inspectors issued the summonses after conducting investigations for potential price gouging at each of the three stations. While investigators did not find evidence of price gouging, station employees did allegedly change gasoline prices more than once in a 24-hour period in violation of state law.

Under the Motor Fuels law, the station owners face a civil penalty of up to $1,500 for an initial violation. The summonses will be adjudicated in the municipal court of the town where the gas station is located.

The law prohibiting price gouging is triggered during a declared state of emergency and prohibits a merchant from charging more than 10% over the price of the good or service prior to the state of emergency, unless the price increase is attributable to the merchant's additional costs.

"Although the charged conduct doesn't constitute price gouging under state law, it's no less reprehensible," said Thomas R. Calcagni, director of the State Division of Consumer Affairs. "New Jersey residents suffered enough as a result of Hurricane Irene, and the actions of these gas stations, if true, add insult to injury. We continue to send our investigators into the field, to alert local officials and storm victims to the issues we are finding, and to follow up on each and every storm-related complaint filed with us."

Investigations against the Delta and Lukoil stations were initiated by the filing of consumer complaints, while OWM inspectors discovered the price change violation at the CITGO station following a routine inspection.

To date, the Consumer Affairs Division has received 103 consumer complaints related to illegal pricing in the wake of Hurricane Irene, 74 of which were determined to be unfounded following investigations. The alleged gas station violations were the first substantiated violations related to Hurricane Irene. Investigations continue with respect to the remaining 26 complaints.

Keywords: 
fuel prices