NYS Attorney General Fines Gas Stations
(N.Y.) Fifteen gas stations statewide, including three controlled by oil companies, have been fined $63,500 for jacking up prices 25 percent or more after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer was scheduled to announce Monday.
Three oil companies set prices for two service stations they control, state Deputy Attorney General Martin Mack said. A subsidiary of Getty Oil Co. increased its price at its Hancock store east of Binghamton from $2.65 per gallon before Aug. 29 to $3.52 after Aug. 29, when complaints of price gouging began. BP Amoco increased the price at its Westchester Avenue station in the Bronx from $2.79 per gallon to $3.51 after Aug. 29, Mack said. Lukoil Co., one of Russia's largest oil producers, increased the price at its Bronx station on Bruckner Boulevard to $3.49 per gallon, from $2.79.
The companies were fined under the state's business law, and the fines were civil actions. The attorney general's office had no jurisdiction to bring criminal charges and there is no specific state crime against price gouging, Mack said.
Other prices were set by regional dealers or gas station owners.
In Westchester County, Hilltop Service Station in Shrub Oak increased its price from $2.69 a gallon to $4 a gallon, Spitzer said.
Prices spiked nationwide after the hurricane, prompting hearings and accusations of price gouging in Congress. Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano took action locally against stations and forwarded findings to Spitzer.
In September, New Jersey sued three oil companies and several gas stations for allegedly gouging drivers during Hurricane Katrina. The state accused Hess, Motiva Shell and Sunoco with artificially inflating gas prices and for increasing prices more than the once-a-day legal limit. Independent gas station operators selling Hess, Shell, Sunoco and Citgo brands were also sued.
"When disaster strikes, state law requires that price increases be linked directly and proportionately to increased costs," Spitzer said in a prepared statement. "This investigation has found numerous instances of unwarranted price increases. In fact, many retailers appear to have used the disaster as an excuse to gouge consumers."
Spitzer investigated 80 gas stations following complaints by consumers of prices immediately after Katrina. Monday's announcement concerns 15 of the more serious cases, but the investigation against other retailers continues, Spitzer said.
Spokesmen for Hilltop, BP Amoco and Lukoil didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
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