N.J. Attorney General sues eight businesses for price gouging in wake of Sandy

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Eight New Jersey business are being sued for unlawful price gouging in the wake of superstorm Sandy, Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa announced Friday.

The defendants are seven gas stations and one hotel. Each of them allegedly raised prices to consumers more than 15 percent in the wake of Sandy, but did not demonstrate higher costs to justify the increase in prices, officials said.

One station named in the civil suit is accused of charged $5.50 per gallon for regular gasoline – an increase of $2.05 per gallon, or 59 percent, above its pre-Sandy prices. Prosecutor said one station actually paid less per gallon for a shipment of fuel received Nov. 1 than it paid for its last shipment before the storm, indicating a decrease in its cost during the state of emergency.

“We have hundreds of complaints still to investigate,” Chiesa said. “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 state Division of Consumer Affairs received nearly 2,000 complaints since Gov. Chris Christie declared a state of emergency on Oct. 27, a number state officials called “unprecedented.”

Violations of the state’s price gouging statute are subject to fines of up to $10,000 for the first offense and up to $20,000 for subsequent offenses.

Consumers who suspect price gouging or any other violation of consumer protection laws, especially as a result of Hurricane Sandy, are urged to call the Division of Consumer Affairs at 800-242-5846.

Here is a full rundown of the alleged violations:

  •     Kistruga, Inc., d/b/a Lukoil station, at 253 McBride Avenue, Paterson. This gas station is accused of raising the price of regular fuel from $3.45 to $5.50 per gallon, an increase of 59 percent, during the state of emergency.  On November 1 the business allegedly made approximately 230 sales of regular gasoline to consumers. The Division of Consumer Affairs received approximately 27 consumer complaints about this company.
  •     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 per gallon 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 per gallon 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 per gallon 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 per gallon 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 per gallon 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 by 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.

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