2012-11-21 / Features

AG Probing Gas Stations That Gouged Motorists

BY LIZ GOFF

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is bringing enforcement action against at least 13 metropolitan area gas stations that gouged motorists with gas priced at nearly $5 a gallon during the recent post-Sandy shortage.

Schneiderman said his office has received hundreds of complaints from consumers throughout the tri-state area who said they sat on long lines to get gasoline, only to find the advertised price was not listed on the pumps.

“Our office has zero tolerance for price gouging and we are taking action to send a message that ripping off New Yorkers is against the law,” Schneiderman said in a letter to the offenders informing them of his intention to sue.

Current state law prohibits merchants from taking unfair advantage of customers by selling essentials such as food, water, gas, generators, batteries, flashlights and fuel at “an unconscionably excessive price” during natural disasters.

“We are actively investigating hundreds of complaints we’ve received from consumers of businesses preying on victims of Hurricane Sandy, and will do everything we can to stop unscrupulous individuals from taking advantage of New Yorkers,” Schneiderman said.

The state’s top prosecutor is bringing enforcement against at least six gas stations in Queens caught gouging customers post-Sandy, a Schneiderman spokesperson said.

Schneiderman said his office sent out notices prior to the storm to businesses like supermarkets, gas stations, hardware stores, bodegas and taxi and livery services warning against price gouging.

Schneiderman’s office has notified the owners of Queens gas stations of the “wide-ranging investigation”, including Shell Northern Heights Service in Jackson Heights, where customers were charged as much as $5.50 a gallon at the peak of the shortage, the attorney general said.

The Shell station was named the worst violator in the city in Schneiderman’s probe, despite denials by the station manager.

A Mobil station on Crescent Street and 41st Avenue in Long Island City was also listed among the worst offenders.

One frustrated customer told the Gazette she waited for hours in a line stretching more than three blocks to get gas at the station that advertised a price of $3.89 a gallon for regular gas.

The woman said she was charged $4.98 a gallon when she reached the pump, while others were turned away by workers who said the station had no more gas.

“I was told they were getting gas at 6 o’clock in the morning,” one male motorist said. “I go there at 5 a.m. to get a place in line and watched, while I waited until 9:30 a.m., as attendants filled 12 yellow cabs with gasoline.”

“I asked the attendants for an answer and they ignored me. I went to the office and talked to the owner, who said the truck was on the way,” the motorist said.

A manager at the Mobil station refused comment on allegations of price gouging.

Schneiderman said his office is using “beforeand after” price analysis from the stations as evidence of price gouging after Hurricane Sandy.

Schneiderman is urging consumers to file complaints with his office by calling 1-800-771- 7755 or by going online to his office at: www.ag.ny.gov.

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