Penalties Mount For Gas Gougers
By MEGAN MONTALVO
|Cars waited in long lines for gas in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, even when some stations had allegedly raised prices beyond what was reasonable. Three gas stations in Queens have been accused of price gouging by the State Attorney General’s office.
Photo by Ira Cohen
As the gas shortage following Superstorm Sandy begins to subside, several gas stations throughout the State are beginning to face legal prosecution bearing potentially staggering fines.
On Nov. 16, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that his office has notified 13 gas station operators – including three in Queens – of his intent to commence enforcement proceedings against them for violations of the New York State Price Gouging statute.
The filing is the first in what the Attorney General’s office said would be a series of gas gouging charges.
“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. “We will do everything we can to stop unscrupulous individuals from taking advantage of New Yorkers trying to rebuild their lives.”
Out of the 13 stations notified in New York City, Long Island and Westchester, Queens and Suffolk Counties tied for the most violators with three stations each.
In Queens, the stations were listed as a Mobil at 40-40 Crescent St. in Long Island City, a Shell at 70-18 Northern Blvd. in Jackson Heights and a Delta at 13-09 14th Ave. in College Point.
Customer complaints chronicled the charges at $4.89 at the Mobil, $5.50 at the Shell and $5.00 at the Delta.
Despite having been notified by Schneiderman’s office of the violations, an employee at the Delta in College Point is denying that gouging ever took place.
“I worked everyday during the gas shortage,” said Aydin Serdlig, who has been an employee at Delta for 10 years. “I don’t know what they [the Attorney General’s office] think, but we never gouged anyone.”
During the crisis, Serdlig said the station charged $4.49 - which is $0.52 more than what they are currently charging at $3.97 – to make up for the higher cost the station had to pay suppliers.
In addition, Serdlig said the station had to raise their routine staff from one employee per shift to six.
“Everything was crazy during the shortage,” he said. “But, I know that gouging is something we would never do.”
Although calls made to Mobil and Shell were not returned as of press time, Schneiderman stated that in the case of the Mobil station in Long Island City, the price per gallon was posted at the roadside as $3.89.
At the time of the customer complaint, the line for the station was three city blocks long. When the customer got to the pump, the price sign noted a cash price of $4.89 for regular gas and a credit card price of $4.99.
Subsequently, the consumer paid the $4.99 using his credit card “because he was low on cash and needed the gas.”
“Clearly, the penalties that exist are insufficient to protect the public in times of crisis,” said Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), who is calling on Albany to make price gouging a crime punishable by up to one year in prison. “These gas stations in particular apparently see fines as the cost of doing business. Anyone who would try to profit from another person’s pain during an emergency deserves to face jail time.”
If any of the 13 accused gougers provide justification for temporarily driving up the cost at the time of the shortage, such as the need to hire security or additional staff, it is possible that the gouging charges may be dropped, Schneiderman’s office said.
In the meantime, he is encouraging people who believe they may be a victim of price gouging to call the Attorney General’s Consumer Helpline at 800-771-7755 or find a complaint form online at: www.ag.ny.gov.
Reach Reporter Megan Montalvo at (718) 357-7400 Ext. 128 or mmontalvo@ queenstribune.com.