NJ finds gas station rip-offs

June 19, 2008 12:49:29 PM PDT
As gas prices continue to set records in the Garden State, state officials have ticketed 350 gas station owners for ripping off motorists. State weights and measures inspectors discovered pricing discrepancies, inaccurate octane ratings and equipment that was improperly calibrated during a recent three-day sweep of 1,023 gas stations in all 21 counties, according to state Attorney General Anne Milgram.

"Consumers deserve to get what they pay for, especially when they are paying record-setting prices for gasoline," Milgram said at a Thursday news conference.

The state crackdown comes amid more complaints from New Jersey drivers that they are being ripped off as they pay gas prices hovering near $4 a gallon - not as bad as many other places in the country but still more than $1 per gallon higher than the $2.91 average price of a year ago.

The investigation, Milgram said, was "deeply troubling," because it found that one-third of the inspected stations had violations. A similar crackdown after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 found that a quarter of the inspected stations had violations.

Milgram said the tough enforcement will continue. The state has 3,142 gas stations.

Milgram last week announced charges against a dozen state employees for stealing gasoline from government fill-up stations.

She said then that the state would complete a follow-up audit of vehicle and gasoline use by thousands of Children and Families Department workers.

One gas station in Somerset County was fined $800 and closed for 20 days for changing the price of gas more than once in 24 hours, a violation of state law.

Inspectors ticketed stations that did not give motorists the amount of gas they paid for. Others charged premium prices for lower octane fuel.

State inspectors found 46 instances where per-gallon prices were different on each side of the pump; 37 instances where the fuel grade was not posted; and 19 instances of inaccurate price totals.

State inspectors also cited 14 stations for changing the price of gas more than once within 24 hours, a violation of state law.

"We have no tolerance for any gas station operator who tries to scam motorists who are already struggling with record gas prices," said state Consumer Affairs Director David Szuchman.

Milgram said she believes most of the violations were intentional, and said she had little tolerance for accidental violations because gas station operators are responsible for knowing and following the law.

Violators face civil fines of up to $1,500 for first-time offenders and significantly more for repeat violators. Individual counties process the violations and can also suspend a gas station's operating license for five to 30 days.

Customers who suspect violations are asked to immediately call the state's weights and measures office at 732-815-4840. Milgram said inspectors will respond with a visit to the site within 24 hours.



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