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WARREN Civil suit filed over brief rise in gasoline prices



Published: Thu, September 20, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Refunds were given to overcharged customers.

By STEPHEN SIFF

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

WARREN -- A convenience store that sold gasoline for as much as $4.20 a gallon immediately after terrorist attacks last week will have to explain its pricing practices in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.

A civil lawsuit filed by the Ohio Attorney General's Office charges that Gem Food Mart, 860 Parkman Road N.W., committed "unconscionable" and "unfair and deceptive" business practices by jacking up pump prices after the attacks.

"It was a misunderstanding, and everyone got their money back," said Dauod Muntaser, owner of Gem Food Mart.

Gasoline was sold at the $4.20 level for only 10 minutes, he said. Refunds were given to four customers the second day after the attack, he said.

Statewide, the attorney general has filed suit against nine gas stations using Ohio's Consumer Sales Practices Act. Gem Food Mart is the only one in Northeast Ohio.

"There was no shortage [of gasoline]," said Bret Crow, a spokesman for attorney general Betty Montgomery. "The only thing was a situation where there were lots of concerns and long lines."

Complaints: About 500 customers called the attorney general's office to complain about gas price-gouging last week, Crow said. Investigators were dispatched to verify pump prices and collect receipts.

The attorney general will not seek the maximum damages allowed under the law, $25,00 per incident of unfair pricing.

"Our intent is not to cripple the business of a small gas station owner," Crow said. "We are trying to get the money back of consumers who paid exorbitant prices."

The attorney general will request the court to direct any damages to be paid to the American Red Cross, to assist in relief efforts, he said. The Trumbull County case has been assigned to Judge Andrew Logan.

siff@vindy.com




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