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AG going after gas gougers

Photo by Rebecca Henely
By Rebecca Henely

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said he would be cracking down on three Queens gas stations he accused of charging excessively high prices in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

The stations — in Long Island City, Jackson Heights and College Point — were named among a list of 13 establishments throughout the state that allegedly charged $4.74 or more in the days after the storm.

“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 statement.

Queens motorists experienced much pain at the pump in the days and weeks after the deadly storm hit the Northeast Oct. 29-30. Stations without power and refinery damage led to gas shortages that resulted in most stations being out of commission. Hours-long lines persisted until the city announced even-odd day gas rationing Nov. 9.

Schneiderman said three gas stations in Queens took advantage of the situation at the cost of consumers. He said the Mobil station, at 40-40 Crescent St. in Long Island City, charged $4.89 per gallon; the Shell station, at 70-18 Northern Blvd. in Jackson Heights, charged $5.50 a gallon; and the Delta station, at 130-09 14th Ave. in College Point, charged $5 a gallon.

The Mobil and the Shell stations did not respond to requests for comment.

A worker at the Delta who declined to give his name said the charges were bogus and that they had no complaints from customers in the days after the storm.

“We never sell $5 gas here,” he said. “We never do that. We’re not crazy people like that.”

As of Monday, the city’s average gas price was $4.007 per gallon, according to gasbuddy.com, an online pump price tracking site.

“These 13 retailers stand out from others in the high prices they have charged and in the size of their price increases,” Schneiderman said.

The attorney general added that the Mobil station had allegedly posted its price per gallon as $3.89, but when a motorist drove up to the pump, the price was listed at $4.89 if paid in cash or $4.99 if paid by credit card. The incident was reported by a consumer who paid nevertheless because he needed the gasoline.

Schneiderman said the stations had been issued notifications of intent to start enforcement against them.

The state’s price gouging law prohibits selling an item or a service for an “unconscionably excessive price” during an “abnormal disruption of the market,” the AG’s office said.

Schneiderman said the notices for the 13 stations are the first of a number of actions against gougers in the state. Not only gas, but essential items like food, water, generators, batteries and flashlights are covered under the law.

State Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck) and state Sen. Eric Adams (D-Brooklyn) introduced legislation earlier this year ordering all gas stations to post a sign near the pump with the phone number for the New York State Consumer Protection Board to be used by consumers if they believe they have been ripped off.

City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) said he was calling upon the state to make gouging punishable by up to a year in prison.

“These gas stations, in particular, apparently see fines as the cost of doing business,” he said. “Anyone who would try to profit from another person’s pain during an emergency deserves to face jail time.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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