Consumers who paid inflated gas prices can show a receipt and get a refund.
By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
WARREN -- A Parkman Road convenience store is one of 27 gasoline dealers across Ohio that State Attorney General Betty Montgomery has accused of doubling or tripling their gas prices in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
State officials say the owners of Gem Food Mart at 860 Parkman Road N.W., Warren, have signed a consent judgment in which they have agreed to repay consumers who paid inflated prices and to make a $1,000 donation to the American Red Cross.
Gouging: Montgomery's office said Gem Food Mart was charging $4.20 a gallon shortly after the attacks when fearful consumers were forming long lines outside service stations to fill their tanks, although there was no gasoline shortage.
Twenty-two other stations also signed similar agreements, and the state attorney has filed suit against four others.
Businesses that charged less, between $3 and $4 per gallon, will be required to make only $500 donations to the Red Cross. In all, the donations will total $16,000.
Stephanie Beougher, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said the violators signed Assurance of Voluntary Compliance agreements, legal documents which are "one step away from a lawsuit."
Refunds: Consumers who were overcharged at Gem Food Mart and who have a receipt to prove it should go to the station for a refund. Beougher said station owners are required to refund the difference between the amount they were charging after the attacks Sept. 11 and what they were charging earlier in the day.
The owner of Gem Food Mart, Dauod Muntaser, said that gas prices were only at the $4.20 level for 10 minutes, and that he repaid customers on the second day after the attack.
Questions can be directed to the attorney general's Consumer Protection Section at (800) 282-0515 or www.ag.state.oh.us.
Complaints: Montgomery said her office received nearly 700 complaints and phone calls in the days after the attacks, and the consumer protection section investigated each complaint. Legal action was taken where unlawful gouging of prices was substantiated.
By law, Montgomery's office could have levied fines of up to $25,000 per violation.
"Our intention was never to put a station out of business," Montgomery said, "but rather to send a message that such unconscionable behavior in the wake of a national tragedy will not be tolerated by Ohio consumers or this office."
Other stations required to make the $1,000 donation included a Fairfield County store that charged $6 a gallon and stations in Champaign and Butler counties that charged $5 a gallon.