YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A Lyndhurst service station that hiked gas prices more than 70 cents a gallon, one in Clifton that jacked it by $1.20, and a Route 46 hotel that produced 2,000 consumer complaints are among eight businesses sued by the state of New Jersey on charges of price gouging during the Hurricane Sandy emergency.
Joining seven gas station is the Howard Johnson Express on Route 46 in Parsippany. State authorities said the hotel boosted room rates by 32% to $119 a night, compared to what had been the price for the most deluxe room before the storm: $90. The DCA got on the case afte receiving nearly 2,000 complaints, state authorities said.
DCA investigators, working with attorneys in the Division of Law, have served about 170 subpoenas on businesses accused by consumers of price gouging.
- YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A trio of hotels operated by a North Bergen-based company, a gas station in the township and a Comfort Suites in Mahwah are among 10 businesses smacked with price-gouging lawsuits by state authorities. READ MORE….
One gas station is accused of charging $5.49 per gallon for regular gasoline – an increase of $2.05 per gallon, or 59 percent, above its pre-storm prices.
This morning, Gov. Christie — along with the DCA and Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa — announced the civil suits, which allege unlawful price gouging while consumers were in need of fuel, shelter, and other essentials.
“New Jersey has a tough price gouging law to ensure that profiteers will not take unfair advantage of people at their most vulnerable – those who have been displaced from their homes, have limited resources, and are seeking fuel, shelter, and the basic necessities of life,” Christie said. “Having visited the hardest-hit areas of our state, and having seen firsthand the suffering caused to so many of our residents, I have directed the Attorney General to aggressively investigate price gouging complaints.
“Businesses operating in New Jersey will obey our laws – or face significant penalties.”
· S&D LLC,d/b/a Exxon station, at 555 Riverside Avenue, Lyndhurst, accused of raising the price of regular fuel from $3.42 to $4.13 per gallon, a 21% hike, during the state of emergency. It also allegedly raised the price of supreme-grade gasoline by 14%. The DCA said it got 13 consumer complaints about this company.
· Kistruga, Inc., d/b/a Lukoil station, at 253 McBride Avenue, Paterson, accused of raising the price of regular fuel from $3.45 to $5.50 per gallon, a boost of 59%. That included 230 sales of regular gas to customers on Nov. 1. The DCA reported 27 complaints.
· C.S. George & Sons, Inc., d/b/a George’s Gulf station, at 387 Crooks Avenue, Clifton, accused of jacking the price of regular gas from $3.49 to $4.69 per gallon, an increase of 35%, generating 52 consumer complaints.
· Alen Service Corp., d/b/a Lukoil station, at 335 McCarter Highway, Newark, accused of boosting the price of regular gas from $3.60 to $4.50 per gallon, an increase of 25%. State authorities said the station also increased the price of premium by 25% and plus by 26 percent — in addition to a whopping increase in the price of diesel fuel by 31% to $5.45 per gallon.
· Vinny Fuel Corporation, d/b/a Delta Gas station, at 141 Bloomfield Avenue, Bloomfield, charged with raising the price of regular from $3.19 to $3.99 per gallon, a 25% hike.
· Perth Amboy NJPO, LLC, d/b/a BP station at 163 Fayette Street, Perth Amboy, accused of increasing the price of regular fuel between 22-33%, premium-grade by 12% and plus-grade by 13%. So far, the business hasn’t produced any receipts, records, and other documents demanded under the DCA subpoena, state authorities said.
· Couto & Sons, Inc. d/b/a Sunoco station, at 69 Wilson Avenue, Newark, accused of jacking up the price of regular fuel from $3.80 to $4.46 per gallon (up 17%). while boosting both plus and premium by 11% — and doing it more than once in 24 hours. The state’s complaint against Cuoto also notes that the 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.”
· Ratan Hospitality Group, LLC, d/b/a Howard Johnson Express at 625 Route 46 East, Parsippany.
The investigation isn’t over, however.
“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.”
“This mission has never been more important than it is now, following this storm,” added Eric T. Kanefsky, Acting Director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs.
New Jersey’s price-gouging statute, N.J.S.A. 56:8-107, et. seq., prohibits excessive price increases during a declared state of emergency or for 30 days after the termination of the state of emergency. Excessive price increases are defined as more than 10 percent higher than the price at which merchandise was sold during the normal course of business prior to the state of emergency. If a merchant faces additional costs during the emergency, prices may not exceed 10 percent above the normal markup from cost.
Violations are subject to civil penalties of up to $10,000 for the first offense and up to $20,000 for subsequent offenses; each sale of merchandise is considered a separate event.
Consumers who suspect price gouging or any other violation of consumer protection laws, particularly as a result of Hurricane Sandy, are urged to call the Division of Consumer Affairs at 800-242-5846 .
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