N.J. Task Force Unleashed

Inspections allegedly find 300 violations; industry group takes issue

Greg Lindenberg, Editor, CSP

NEWARK, N.J. -- State Department of Weights & Measures inspectors checking gas stations in all 21 New Jersey counties have found more than 300 alleged violations, including pricing discrepancies, inaccurate octane ratings and inaccurate or out-of-tolerance equipment, Attorney General Anne Milgram and Consumer Affairs Director David Szuchman said late last week. A state retail group said it believes the AG's press release about the matter is "misleading" and inaccurate.

More than 1,000 stations were inspected at the end of May through a coordinated effort involving county and state [image-nocss] Weights & Measures personnel.

"Consumers deserve to get what they pay for, especially when they are paying record-setting prices for gasoline," Milgram said. "We cannot control the price of gasoline but we can, and we are, upholding our laws and regulations regarding the sale of motor fuels."

The 350 violations found at the 1,023 stations inspected include the following:

• Meters out of tolerance (more than 6 cubic inches), 62 violations.
• Station registration not available, 47 violations.
• Per-gallon prices different on each side of the pump, 46 violations.
• Fuel grade not posted (octane rating label), 37 violations.
• Price-per-gallon on dispenser noncompliant, 36 violations.
• Service station fuel brand not posted, 30 violations.
• Inaccurate octane rating, 26 violations.
• Inaccurate total sale price calculation, 19 violations.
• Per-gallon prices not posted on pump, 15 violations.
• Multiple price changes in a 24-hour period, 14 violations.
• Documents not available, 14 violations.
• 5-gallon test measure requirements (no device), 2 violations.
• Credit card receipts missing information, 2 violations.

The counties will process these violations and local Weights & Measures officials joined with Milgram at a press conference at Essex Green Sunoco in West Orange. The station, which has a history of being in compliance with state laws and regulations, was undergoing its annual inspection.

"Let the word go out loud and clear—we have no tolerance for any gas station operator who tries to scam motorists who are already struggling with record gas prices," Szuchman said.

Sal Risalvato, executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline-Convenience-Automotive-Association (formerly the New Jersey Gasoline Retailers Association), told CSP Daily News, "NJGCA has always supported efforts to identify and punish dishonest merchants, and we will continue to support that effort; however, the press release issued by…Milgram was misleading, and we believe may even be factually incorrect. [It] was meant to sensationalize official efforts to combat high gas prices. The attorney general tried to paint a picture that gas station operators are crooks and that simply is not true."

He said, "Retailers that are purposely deceptive or dishonest should be punished severely. When they cheat, they gain an unfair advantage over honest retailers that compete with them and I will not permit that to happen. A retailer that knowingly blends cheaper regular grade gasoline in to the premium inventory to gain extra profit is dishonest. A retailer that knowingly alters pump meters to cheat customers is dishonest. A retailer that purposely posts a deceptive sign is dishonest; however, a retailer that doesn't have the proper registration or other documents available is not dishonest. A retailer that unknowingly has meters out of calibration is not dishonest."

The press release, he said, states only that "violators with meters out of tolerance," and does not state in which direction the meters were found to be out of tolerance. Meters that pump too much gasoline are considered a violation and more pumps are giving too much fuel than are dispensing too little, he said.

"A retailer that doesn't display an octane rating sticker is not dishonest. A retailer that doesn't have a test can on site is not dishonest," Risalvato added. "Yes they are in technical violation of the regulations, and there is no excuse for them not to be in compliance, but they should never be painted as dishonest."

There is also evidence that retailers named on the list of violators had already undergone and passed inspections at their locations, he said. "Their names should never have been listed as one of those being cited by the attorney general. NJGCA is investigating this error. I will comment once the investigation is complete," said Risalvato.

Dealer who violate per-gallon pricing requirements face a civil penalty of up to $1,500 for the first offense and up to $3,000 for any subsequent offense. A violation of the Consumer Fraud Act carries an initial violation of up to $10,000 and up to $20,000 for any subsequent violation.