• WEATHER ALERT Severe Thunderstorm Watch

Gas retailers say fraud accusations are unfounded

June 26, 2008 2:45:50 PM PDT
A group of gas station owners is fighting allegations that they are out to scam consumers. Members of the New Jersey Gasoline-C-Store-Automotive Association on Thursday denounced a recent statewide inspection sweep as little more than an attempt by public officials to garner headlines in a climate of rising consumer anger over gas prices.

Attorney General Anne Milgram announced last week that inspections of more than 1,000 gas stations across the state had found 350 violations ranging from inaccurate octane ratings and improperly calibrated equipment to unauthorized price changes. She released a list of stations that had been ticketed.

NJGCA executive director Sal Risalvato said he would have "stood next to the AG at the podium" had she uncovered serious violations or cases of intentional fraud.

Instead, he said, the majority of the violations were for minor infractions - many of which were beyond a station owner's control - and that the list of violators lumped together "some guy with a faded sticker on a pump" with those who intentionally flouted the system.

"Many of the stations on the list had no infractions, or had infractions so minute that had nothing to do with deception or dishonesty," Risalvato said. "We felt it was unfair of the AG to send out a press release making out that there are 350 crooks out there who were caught doing something."

Risalvato, whose group represents about half of the state's more than 3,000 gas stations, said many of those on the list were reporting drop-offs in business, insults from consumers and a potential loss of their livelihoods.

He said the gas station "blacklist" comes at a time when owners are already suffering from rising wholesale gas prices and a decrease in profits.

"Everybody in government is trying to do anything they can to make it look like they are doing something about gas prices for an angry public," Risalvato said. "If gas was at $2 a gallon, there would have been no press conference."

Milgram said at a news conference last Thursday that inspections in all 21 counties had resulted in stations being ticketed for anything from motorists not getting the amount of gas they paid for, to stations charging premium prices for lower-grade gas.

Risalvato called on the AG's office to release the details of the findings, and argued that pumps found to be out of whack can often pump more gas, not less, than a meter indicates. He said a true violator would have to break a state-issued seal to tamper with a pump.

Forty-six violations were issued for stations having different prices on each side of the pump, 19 instances of inaccurate price totals, and 14 tickets issued for changing gas prices more than once with a 24-hour period.

Attorney General spokesman David Wald said Thursday that after reviewing the list of stations that had been issued violations, only Academy Exxon in Livingston had been removed for being erroneously included.

Wald said inspections would continue, and dismissed claims that the crackdown was only meant to garner headlines.

"This was not a publicity ploy," he said. "It was to encourage drivers to be alert to things like if the price is different for credit and cash, and to encourage them to report any discrepancies."

Gas prices remain around $4 per gallon in New Jersey.


Load Comments