Local News

Price-gouging investigation nets $56,000 in refunds

Posted June 3, 2009 2:37 p.m. EDT

— Attorney General Roy Cooper said Wednesday that his office has won more than $56,000 in consumer refunds, energy assistance funds and civil penalties from 11 gas stations as part of a price-gouging investigation that started after Hurricane Ike last fall.

The Attorney General's Office also has filed suit against the owners of three gas stations.

“People let us know about suspected price gouging, and we took action,” Cooper said in a statement. “We’ve put money back in consumers’ pockets and sent a strong message that we won’t tolerate those who try to make an unfair profit off of a disaster.”

The state began investigating possible price-gouging by North Carolina gas stations after thousands of consumer complaints started pouring in hours after Ike struck the Texas Gulf Coast on Sept. 12. Former Gov. Mike Easley activated the state's price-gouging law because the storm knocked refineries off line and created a market disruption.

Cooper said he filed suit Wednesday against LR&S Inc., alleging that it raised gas prices from under $4 a gallon to $5.68 a gallon at two Yadkinville stations. The increase raised the company’s mark-up over wholesale costs by more than 400 percent, according to the suit, which is seeking refunds and civil penalties.

The owner of a Greensboro gas station also has agreed to pay more than $5,400 in refunds and penalties to resolve allegations that it gouged customers by charging $5.20 a gallon for gas in Ike's aftermath, Cooper said.

The Attorney General's Office previously won consumer refunds, civil penalties for public schools and payments to special funds to provide energy assistance to low-income North Carolinians from the owners of gas stations in Fayetteville, Murphy, Marble, Hayesville, Jefferson, Old Fort, Asheville and McLeansville.

A lawsuit against the owner of a Troy gas station is pending, and investigators found that 12 other station owners didn't violate the price-gouging law.

Cooper said his office is still investigating possible price gouging by gas wholesalers and distributors.