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Hurricane Hikes? Fla. official seeks $22,000 in gas price gouging fines from seven stations

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida Agriculture & Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson said that he is seeking $22,000 in fines against seven gas stations for allegedly engaging in price gouging in the aftermath of the summers hurricanes.

Complaints received from consumers"and confirmation by investigators in Bronsons department"allegedly show that three of the stations unlawfully raised prices by more than 34 cents a gallon while four others illegally hiked prices by 28 cents, 24 cents, 17 cents and 17 cents a gallon, respectively.

We will not tolerate anyone exploiting our citizens and hope that these series of actions send a strong message that we will fully investigate and go after any instances of price gouging that we find, Bronson said.

The actions are in the form of proposed settlement agreements, known as Assurances of Voluntary Compliance, in which the stations are notified of Bronsons offices findings and informed that they can settle the cases by paying a fine in the amount being sought and agree to comply with the law. If the stations refuse to settle, civil actions will be filed against them, said Bronson.

Proposed settlement agreements involving the following Florida stations were delivered yesterday:

Petro No. 238, Tallahassee. The station is being asked to pay a fine of $5,000 for raising its price by 34.9 cents a gallon in violation of Floridas price-gouging statute. Petro No. 198, Crawfordville. It is being asked to pay a $5,000 fine for unlawfully increasing prices by 37.1 cents a gallon. Petro No. 195, Tallahassee. A fine of $5,000 is being sought in that case involving the unlawful raising of prices by 36.9 cents a gallon. Petro No. 205, Pensacola. It is being asked to pay a $2,500 fine for unlawfully hiking the price of a gallon of gasoline by 28.8 cents. Petro No. 227, Tallahassee. The station is being asked to pay a fine of $1,000 for raising its price by 17.2 cents a gallon in violation of the law. M&M Blue Sky Inc, which does business as Gas n Shop, Eustis. It seeks a fine of $2,500 for unlawfully hiking gas prices by 24.7 cents a gallon. Stop N Save LLC, Tallahassee. The station is being asked to pay a $1,000 fine for unlawfully raising the price of gasoline by 17.2 cents a gallon.

Bronson cautioned that while the actions are among the first in a series of actions against stations involving price gouging from Hurricanes Dennis and Katrina, many other investigations that could lead to similar actions are pending.

Under state law, it is illegal to charge excessive or exorbitant prices for essential items, including gasoline, housing, food, water, ice and lumber, during a state of emergency unless the increases in the amount charged are attributable to increases incurred by the retailer.

In addition to the current actions, Bronson also noted that his department has collected $500 from Express Lane Inc., which operates a station by that name in Port St. Joe, as part of a settlement agreement in connection with a price gouging complaint against that facility in July.

Meanwhile, Bronsons department is also examining records of 19 oil companies that maintain terminal operations in Florida to determine whether any of those companies that supply wholesalers and retailers with fuel engaged in price gouging. The review of those records is expected to continue for several weeks.

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