Paying the Piper
Bronson collects $14,000 in gas price-gouging fines
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida Agriculture & Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson said that his department has collected $14,000 in fines from four gas stations in connection with gasoline price-gouging investigations following the hurricanes over the summer.
The stations, among 10 offered settlement agreements in recent weeks for allegedly engaging in price gouging, signed the agreements calling for the payment of the fines and a pledge by the stations that they will comply with the price-gouging law in the future.Each of the stations also has agreed to reimburse consumers [image-nocss] for any overcharges, provided that customers have receipts showing that they purchased gasoline from that facility on the dates that the stations were cited for overcharges in the settlement agreements.The four companies that have paid fines are: Southwest Georgia Oil Co. Inc., Bainbridge, Ga., which does business as Inland No. 262, Chipley, Fla. It was fined $10,000 after investigators in Bronsons office determined that it had unlawfully raised prices by 75.7 cents for a gallon of gasoline between August 30 and August 31. M&M Blue Sky Inc., which does business as Gas n Shop, Eustis, Fla. It was fined $2,500 for illegally hiking its price of gasoline by 24.7 cents a gallon between August 24 and September 9. Stop & Save LLC, Tallahassee, Fla. The station was fined $1,000 for illegally raising its price of a gallon of gas by 17.2 cents between July 7 and July 11. Express Lane Inc., Port St. Joe, Fla. It was fined $500 for illegally raising its price for a gallon of gasoline by 8.7 cents between July 7 and July 24.
Bronson said that his department is prepared to file lawsuits against the six other stations offered settlement agreements unless they settle with his department in the coming days.Consumers are entitled to be treated fairly, and any company that we find that has exploited them during or after a storm will be dealt with harshly, he said.Gas n Shop owner Aslam Aci told the Orlando Sentinel that he ran out of gasoline in the middle of the day as motorists were lining up at the pumps. He raised his price for regular unleaded fuel from $2.65 a gallon to $2.95 after a supplier provided him with more expensive gasoline.Florida law makes it illegal to charge an excessive or exorbitant price for essential items, including gasoline, during a state of emergency unless those increases are the same as the increases faced by the retailer.After several people complained, Florida officials told the company it could either pay the $2,500 fine or face being taken to court by the state.