PATERSON, NJ - The Attorney General's Office announced on Friday that it has filed a lawsuit accusing the Lukoil gas station at 253 McBride of raising its prices about 60 percent during the Hurricane Sandy fuel crisis.
The price-gouging suit says the station, owned by Kistruga In., had jacked up its per gallon rates for regular gas from $3.45 to $5.50 and made about 230 sales to customers at that rate, according to a state press release. The state says it received 27 consumer complaints about the situation.
The Lukoil station is accused of imposing the largest price increase among seven that the AG's Office has cited. The stations face penalties of up to $10,000.
PatersonPress.com tried contacting the owners of the Lukoil station, but no one answered their phone.
“New Jersey has a tough price gouging law to ensure that profiteers will not take unfair advantage of people at their most vulnerable – those who have been displaced from their homes, have limited resources, and are seeking fuel, shelter, and the basic necessities of life,” said Gov. Chris Christie in the press release.
“Having visited the hardest-hit areas of our state, and having seen firsthand the suffering caused to so many of our residents, I have directed the Attorney General to aggressively investigate price gouging complaints,'' the governor added. "Businesses operating in New Jersey will obey our laws – or face significant penalties.”
The AG lawsuits, filed by the Division of Law on behalf of the Division of Consumer Affairs, name seven other defendants:
· C.S. George & Sons, Inc., d/b/a George’s Gulf station, at 387 Crooks Avenue, Clifton. This gas station is accused of raising the price of regular gas from $3.49 to $4.69 per gallon, an increase of 34 percent, during the state of emergency. The Division of Consumer Affairs received approximately 52 consumer complaints about this company.
· Alen Service Corp., d/b/a Lukoil station, at 335 McCarter Highway, Newark. This gas station is accused of raising the price of regular gas from $3.60 to $4.50 per gallon, an increase of 25 percent, during the state of emergency. The business also allegedly raised the price of premium-grade gasoline by 25 percent, raised the price of plus-grade gasoline by 26 percent, and raised the price of diesel fuel by 31 percent, to $5.45 per gallon. The Division of Consumer Affairs received approximately 21 consumer complaints about this company.
· Vinny Fuel Corporation, d/b/a Delta Gas station, at 141 Bloomfield Avenue, Bloomfield. This gas station is accused of raising the price of regular gas from $3.19 to $3.99 per gallon, an increase of 25 percent, during the state of emergency. The Division of Consumer Affairs received approximately six consumer complaints about this company.
· Perth Amboy NJPO, LLC, d/b/a BP station at 163 Fayette Street, Perth Amboy. This gas station was accused by consumers of raising the price of regular fuel between 22 percent and 33 percent during the state of emergency. It also allegedly raised the price of premium-grade gasoline by 12 percent, and the price of plus-grade gasoline by 13 percent, from October 31 to November 1. The business has allegedly refused to provide receipts, records, and other documents that the Division of Consumer Affairs demanded by subpoena. The Division of Consumer Affairs received approximately 19 consumer complaints about this company.
· S&D LLC,d/b/a Exxon station, at 555 Riverside Avenue, Lyndhurst. This gas station is accused of raising the price of regular fuel from $3.42 to $4.13 per gallon, an increase of 21 percent, during the state of emergency. It also allegedly raised the price of supreme-grade gasoline by 14 percent. The Division of Consumer Affairs received approximately 13 consumer complaints about this company.
· Couto & Sons, Inc. d/b/a Sunoco station, at 69 Wilson Avenue, Newark. This gas station is accused of raising the price of regular fuel from $3.80 to $4.46 per gallon, an increase of 17 percent, during the state of emergency. It also allegedly raised the price of plus-grade, premium-grade, and ultra-grade fuel by 11 percent. The gas station is also accused of increasing the prices for all four grades of fuel more than once per 24 hour period, in violation of the Motor Fuels Act. The State’s complaint further notes that this gas station paid less per gallon for a shipment of fuel on November 1 than it paid for its most recent shipment prior to the state of emergency – indicating a decrease in the company’s costs, rather than an increase, after the storm. The Division of Consumer Affairs received approximately 24 consumer complaints about this company.
· Ratan Hospitality Group, LLC, d/b/a Howard Johnson Express at 625 Route 46 East, Parsippany. This hotel is accused of raising its room prices up to 32 percent – to $119 per night, compared with the hotel’s highest room rate of $90 immediately prior to the state of emergency.
“We have hundreds of complaints still to investigate,'' said Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa. "Anyone seeking to prey upon the desperation of consumers during this state of emergency will find that the penalties far outweigh any ill-gotten profits.”
The press release said New Jersey’s price gouging statute, N.J.S.A. 56:8-107, et. seq., prohibits excessive price increases during a declared state of emergency or for 30 days after the termination of the state of emergency. Excessive price increases are defined as more than 10 percent higher than the price at which merchandise was sold during the normal course of business prior to the state of emergency. If a merchant faces additional costs during the emergency, prices may not exceed 10 percent above the normal markup from cost.
Eric T. Kanefsky, Acting Director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, said, “Since Governor Christie declared the state of emergency, the Division of Consumer Affairs has made the investigation and prosecution of price gouging cases its number one priority. To date, the Division has issued more than 170 subpoenas to New Jersey merchants, and investigated hundreds of others. The Division will not stop until every consumer complaint of price gouging has been addressed. It is the Division’s mission to protect New Jersey’s consumers every day of the year. This mission has never been more important than it is now, following this storm.”
Acting Director Kanefsky noted that the Division has received nearly 2,000 consumer complaints since Governor Christie declared a state of emergency on October 27 – an unprecedented number in such a short period of time.
Consumers who suspect price gouging or any other violation of consumer protection laws, particularly as a result of Hurricane Sandy, are urged to call the Division of Consumer Affairs at 800-242-5846.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.