Fifteen gas stations investigated

· Oct 4, 2001 Tweet

Fifteen gas stations that hiked prices on Sept. 11 are under fire from Gov. Scott McCallum and other state officials.

Early last week, McCallum and Jim Harsdorf, secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) announced the results of the gas station investigation were being forwarded to district attorneys in five counties, including Dane County.

Each district attorney will decide separately whether to file charges against the stations. The Department of Justice is also conducting an investigation.

Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard said he has received one referral from the DATCP and expects to receive two more.

Blanchard said his decision to pursue the cases will depend on whether the price increases were attempts to defraud consumers, how honest and open the stations are now, what information they appeared to have on Sept. 11 and what the gas station’s competitors were doing at the time.

Although it is not illegal to increase gas prices, gas stations could be charged if they misled consumers with deceptive advertising or if they changed gas prices more than once in a 24-hour period.

Debbie Monterrey-Millett, spokesperson for McCallum, said while many stations held their prices steady, some charged as much as $4.78 a gallon.
McCallum investigated the next day and uncovered more than 2,000 complaints statewide. He encouraged citizens in a press conference to boycott stations that were overcharging. Monterrey-Millett said after the announcement, prices immediately began to fall.
According to Monterrey-Millett, a second wave of investigations has shown that as many as 417 stations in 56 counties could be guilty of price gauging.

“The supply of gas was not in short supply and that obviously proved to be true,” she said. “I don’t know what retailers were told (by wholesale suppliers), but it turns out there was plenty of gas in the pipes.”

The Department of Justice spokesman Randy Romanski said the attorney general’s office is investigating 16 gas stations in eight counties. But Romanski said it is a commonly held belief that price gouging is a horrible business practice.

“I can say that anyone who would knowingly mislead consumers is despicable,” he said. “Price gouging, if it occurs, is a despicable business practice.”

Romanski said consumers have a lot of clout and should remember which businesses were involved with price gouging.

However, not all stations hiked fuel prices following terrorist attacks. Rob Bartlett, vice president of the Petroleum Marketers Association of Wisconsin, said 99 percent of retailers did nothing wrong.

According to Bartlett, some wholesale suppliers told retail stores there would be a price increase. Other suppliers curtailed the amount of gas they were able to receive.

“There were a storm of rumors and some misinformation,” Bartlett said. “Some wholesale suppliers told their retailers that they were going to be on allocation and they would be able to receive no more than 1/30 of the supplies for the month.”

Rumors spread to citizens as well and caused consumers to line up at some gas stations and buy three or four times the amount of fuel they normally buy. Bartlett said retailers had to do something to make sure they did not run out.


This article was published Oct 4, 2001 at 12:00 am and last updated Oct 4, 2001 at 12:00 am


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