Cooper sends subpoenas to seven gas retailers
Published 10:59 pm Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Price-gouging complaints are being investigated
By MIKE VOSS
Several gas stations were subpoenaed Monday for dramatically raising their fuel prices after Hurricane Ike, reportedly charging as much as $7.32 a gallon for regular fuel.
State Attorney Roy Cooper said seven retailers were targeted for charging more than $5.49 a gallon last week, though more subpoenas are being prepared. Retailers will have 10 days to explain why their prices went so high and could be fined up to $5,000.
Cooper took action after his office received thousands of complaints about price gouging, a large number from western North Carolina. The first round of subpoenas went to gas stations in Anson, Ashe, Cherokee, Guilford, Montgomery, Stanly and Transylvania counties. More subpoenas are on the way, he said.
The average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas in North Carolina is up to $4.085 a gallon, more than 50 cents higher that it was last week, according to auto club AAA Carolinas. Gas prices shot up shortly after Hurricane Ike struck the Texas coastline and its numerous oil refineries.
Gov. Mike Easley declared a state of ‘‘abnormal market disruption’’ on Friday and signed an order allowing Cooper to enforce the state’s anti-gouging law. The subpoenas represent the first time the anti-gouging law has been put to work since it was passed in 2006.
There’s no specific formula to determine what price is considered gouging, but Cooper said he’ll use several factors such as wholesale price and quantities.
The Consumer Protection staff at the attorney general’s office has fielded more than 2,800 calls from concerned consumers since Friday. Cooper said no calls have come in from retailers complaining about gouging from wholesalers.
Cooper’s Consumer Protection Division issued the subpoenas after getting more than 2,800 reports of possible price gouging from consumers across North Carolina. The subpoenas require retailers to provide documentation, including information on their costs, to the attorney general’s Office by Sept. 26.
Price gouging — or charging unreasonably excessive prices in times of crisis — violates North Carolina General Statute 75-38, when a disaster, an emergency or an abnormal market disruption for critical goods and services is declared or proclaimed by the governor.
The price gouging law, which Cooper helped beef up in 2006, also applies to all levels of the supply chain from the manufacturer to the distributor to the retailer.
Cooper encourages consumers who have complaints about price gouging to visit the consumer-protection section of the N.C. Department of Justice’s Web site (www.ncdoj.gov) and download a price gouging-complaint form. Fill out the form and mail it to: Consumer Protection Division, N.C. Attorney General’s Office, 9001 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-9001. Consumers also may file a complaint by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll-free within North Carolina.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.