Overcharged For Fuel Amid Crisis
As part of an ongoing probe of high gasoline prices in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that he is filing lawsuits against four service stations for violations of the state price gouging statute and has reached monetary settlements with 25 other service stations totaling $167,850.
Investigations are pending against dozens of other gas stations, it was noted.
The lawsuits, filed in Kings, Nassau and Suffolk County Supreme Courts accuse the stations of charging consumers unconscionably excessive prices in the days immediately following Hurricane Sandy last November.
In the days after the storm, areas of New York saw some of the largest jumps in gas prices in state history. The settlements require that those gas stations pay penalties to the state.
“Six months ago this week, as New Yorkers were sitting in lines waiting for hours to buy critical supplies of gasoline, some shady business owners were trying to make a fast buck at their expense,” said Schneiderman last Thursday, May 2. “Today, we are sending a powerful message that ripping off New Yorkers during a time of crisis is against the law and we will do everything in our power to hold them accountable.”
Gasoline price jumps in the wake of the hurricane resulted in hundreds of complaints received by Schneiderman’s office and showed that prices were changing at the pump, not only overnight but several times a day.
New York State’s Price Gouging Law (General Business Law § 396-r) prohibits merchants from taking unfair advantage of consumers by selling goods or services for an “unconscionably excessive price” during natural disasters. The price gouging law covers New York State vendors, retailers and suppliers.
The law specifically says that a price may be considered excessive if there is a “gross disparity” between the prices charged immediately before and after the emergency and the disparity is not attributable to higher costs imposed upon the seller.
David Yassky, the chairman of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, said, “The transportation provided by taxi and for-hire vehicle drivers in the days before the MTA was back up and running was vital to our city’s re- covery from Sandy, and to see some of these hardworking men and women fall victim to fuel gougers was unjust and frankly offensive.”
The four gas stations named in last Thursday’s lawsuits include the Greenpoint Truck Stop Inc., d.b.a. Sonomax, located at 278 Greenpoint Ave. in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. There was reported 98 cent difference between the wholesale and retail prices for regular gasoline prior to the storm. That difference was $1.85 immediately following the storm, accounting for an 88 percent increase. The retail price for a gallon of regular gasoline immediately after Hurricane Sandy was $4.59.
The spread is the difference between the wholesale price paid by the operator and the price charged at the pump.
Settlements have been reached for prior price gouging cases with two service stations in New York City, including E-Z Station Inc., d.b.a. Mobil, located at 40-40 Crescent St. in Long Island City.
Before Sandy, there was a $1.03 difference between the retail and wholesale prices of a gallon of regular gasoline. That difference jumped to $2.08 immediately after Sandy, accounting for a 102 percent increase. The retail price for a gallon of regular gasoline charged by the station was $4.89.
This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General in Charge of the Nassau Regional Office Valerie Singleton, Assistant Attorney General Sandra Giorno-Tocco of the Westchester Regional Office, Assistant Attorney General in Charge of the Westchester Regional Office Gary Brown, Assistant Attorney General Judith Malkin of the Syracuse Regional Office, Assistant Attorney General James Morrissey of the Buffalo Regional Office, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Eubank of the Brooklyn Regional Office, Assistant Attorney General in Charge of the Brooklyn Regional Office Lois Booker-Williams, Assistant Attorney General Michael Danaher of the Binghamton Regional Office, under the overall supervision of Executive Deputy Attorney General for Regional Affairs Martin J. Mack. These cases were also handled by Assistant Attorneys General Mary Alestra and Melissa O’Neill of the Bureau of Consumer Frauds & Protection, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Laura J. Levine, Bureau Chief Jane M. Azia, and Executive Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice Karla G. Sanchez.