New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs Charges Sussex County
Gas Station with Price Gouging Following Hurricane Irene
NEWARK – A Sussex County gas station that raised its prices by more than 10% immediately following landfall by Hurricane Irene in August has been sued for allegedly price-gouging consumers.
The Division of Consumer Affairs yesterday filed suit against Thakur Gas, LLC, which does business as Lukoil at 384 Route 206 North in Branchville. According to the civil complaint, Ranbir Singh, of Roselle Park, serves as the company’s initial member and registered agent.
The suit alleges that the station charged excessive prices for motor fuel 488 times on August 29.
“Taking advantage of those recovering from devastating disasters is despicable conduct,” Attorney General Paula T. Dow said. “The alleged price gouging committed by this gas station took hard-earned money from storm victims who bought fuel to power generators, chainsaws, and other equipment.”
Governor Chris Christie on August 25 declared a state of emergency for all of New Jersey. State law deems price increases excessive if they are more than 10 percent higher than the price at which a good or service was sold in the usual course of business prior to the state of emergency. If additional costs are imposed by suppliers, prices are considered excessive if a seller’s markup from cost increases by more than 10 percent compared to immediately prior to the state of emergency.
The suit alleges, for example, that the defendant charged an excessive price for regular-grade gasoline after the state of emergency had been declared because the cash price rose to $3.999 per gallon, from the $3.399 price per gallon charged immediately prior to the state of emergency. That change represents an increase of 17.65 percent.
The cash price for plus-grade gasoline increased from $3.599 per gallon to $4.199 per gallon, an increase of 16.67 percent. The cash price for premium-grade gasoline increased from $3.699 per gallon to $4.299 per gallon, an increase of 16.22 percent.
The lawsuit also alleges that the pump prices exceeded the allowable 10 percent markup even when factoring in the higher fuel costs the gas station paid its wholesaler.
“Citizens statewide came together to help each other recover from Hurricane Irene. Amid this outpouring of compassion, a disappointing few saw economic opportunity in the distress of neighbors and fellow New Jerseyans. That’s what makes this alleged act of price gouging so abhorrent,” said Thomas R. Calcagni, Director of the State Division of Consumer Affairs. “Let’s be perfectly clear – New Jersey will not tolerate profiteering at the expense of our citizens’ suffering. And those who respond to natural disasters with greed and guile, will find themselves facing the full force of this Division’s authority.”
The lawsuit, filed in State Superior Court in Sussex County, is the first case of alleged price gouging related to Hurricane Irene brought by the Division of Consumer Affairs. Violations are punishable by civil penalties of up to $10,000 for the first offense and $20,000 for the second and subsequent offenses. Each individual sale of merchandise is considered a separate and distinct event.
Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Kant is representing the Division in the lawsuit.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website, www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov, or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey ) or 973-504-6200.
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