AVENEL, N.J. -- The New Jersey Office of Weights & Measures (OWM), within the State Division of Consumer Affairs, has announced charges against 14 gas stations accused of misleading consumers by selling fuel with octane levels lower than those advertised on the pumps.
The civil complaints follow a two-week campaign of unannounced octane tests, led by the OWM at 325 gas stations across New Jersey. The tests, conducted by a joint task force of inspectors from the OWM and from 13 county OWMs, found that the majority of stations were in compliance with the state's Motor Fuels Act, but not all.
"With some stations charging over $4 per gallon for premium grade gasoline, we want to ensure that consumers are getting their money's worth," said Thomas R. Calcagni, director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. "Of the 325 gas stations inspected, 4% allegedly practiced deceptive advertising with regard to the quality of fuel sold. We're holding them accountable."
The unannounced inspections included field tests with portable octane testers. Investigators sent any fuel samples that appeared to present a violation, presented unclear results or could not be tested onsite for any reason to a laboratory in Philadelphia or New York for comprehensive testing. They sent a total of 40 samples to the labs, and they alleged that those from 14 stations were in violation.
As a result of those tests, four county OWMs filed complaints against the following stations, charging them with violations of New Jersey's Motor Fuels Act or violations of the state's Weights & Measures Statute:
- US Gas/Mmarmab LLC, Hackensack.
- CITGO, Blackwood.
- Jessie's Gulf, Oaklyn.
- Runnemede Extra, Runnemede.
- US Gulf, Pennsauken.
- Glassboro Lukoil, Glassboro.
- Gurbittha Gas LLC Lukoil, Woodbury.
- Mantua Pike Lukoil, Woodbury.
- US Gas/Bahadur Singh Inc., Malaga.
- Edison Fuel Stop, Edison.
- Fuel One Inc., Avenel.
- Fuel One Inc., Edison.
- North Brunswick Express Fuel, North Brunswick.
- PAK Petroleum CITGO, Piscataway.
Each station charged with violating the Motor Fuels Act faces a fine of up to $1,500 for a first violation, and up to $3,000 for subsequent violations, as well as a five-to-30 day suspension of its license to operate. Each station charged with a violation of the Weights & Measures Statute faces a fine from $250 to $1,000 for the first violation, and fines between $1,000 and $5,000 for subsequent violations.
Sal Risalvato, executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline, Convenience, Automotive Association (NJGCA), said in a statement released following the OWM announcement: "I'd like to properly congratulate the professionals at OWM for their most recent efforts in protecting consumers and the small-business community. Any retailer who knowingly and deliberately deceives the public by trying to pass off lower octane gasoline as premium fuel deserves what's coming to them."
"It always upsets me when I hear that someone in our industry gets caught doing something like this. Whenever they do, it pulls a dark cloud over the entire industry. Though I will always support valid and justified charges against anyone who knowingly cheats their customers, all too often honest small businesses get unfairly lumped in with the guilty. In this instance, I'm hopeful that decent station owners won't get undeservedly branded in the process."
"Over the last five years, NJGCA has cooperated and collaborated with OWM on any number of issues. We have worked together to get essential information to our members on a host of topics on how to stay in compliance. Today, the fruit of those efforts are unmistakably clear: Of the 14 stations charged with deceiving the public, none were NJGCA members. I couldn't be more pleased."
"I'm very proud of our members, not only for operating honest businesses, but for actively policing the industry. I have encouraged our members to point out any station--member and nonmember alike--that seems to be using deceptive practices to compete unfairly. The reasons are simple: Any retailer who tries to cheat the public is harming the reputation of honest small station owners everywhere while gaining an unfair advantage against a competitor. When that happens, they unjustly compete for patrons and hurt honest establishments that play by the rules. That's unacceptable. For these reasons and more, we will always work with OWM to route out any dishonest business owner who deliberately tries to hurt the public."
"When small business owners knowingly behave dishonestly, consumers lose, competitors lose, and the public trust is violated. Thankfully, OWM is staffed by professionals who work hard to prevent such conduct; I congratulate them on their diligence."
In related news, the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs mailed letters in late November to the operators of 10 stations informing them that minor violations identified at their facilities earlier this year in fact did not exist.
The 10 stations were found to either have inaccurate credit-card receipts or did not have the brand of fuel posted. A subsequent review following the inspections conducted by either local or state OWM inspectors found that these 10 stations in fact did not have the noted violations. Five of the 10 stations were cited for other violations that were confirmed to be valid.
"We're setting the record straight," said David Szuchman, Consumer Affairs Director. "We did verify that many serious violations, such as inaccurate pumps and pricing errors, did exist at service stations elsewhere. But in reviewing these 10 cases, we found that the violations for inaccurate credit card receipts or no brand of gasoline posted were incorrect."
The 10 stations are as follows:
Inaccurate Credit-Card Receipts:
- Helmetta Mobil (aka Northfield Inc.)*.
- Sayreville Tire*.
- Excell Management, Old Bridge*.
- Hess No. 30526, Pennsauken*.
- Spartan Oil, Ogdensburg.
- Delsea Gulf (aka Ross Fogg Fuel Oil Inc.).
No Brand Posted:
- Riggins, Browns Mills (aka M & T Inc.).
- Riggins, Willingboro (aka Harden Petroleum Inc.).
- Riggins, Trenton (aka Quart Inc.).
- K.W. Rastall Oil Co., North Brunswick (aka Longhorn Oil Corp.).
(*Cited for other violations that are still valid.)
Alleged violations identified at two other stations, Academy Exxon in Livingston and Riggins in Millville, were previously announced as being inaccurate.
The division inspected more than 1,000 stations statewide at the end of May through a coordinated effort involving county and state OWM personnel. A total of 338 stations (corrected total) were found to have had violations.