New York AG accuses stations of gas gouging

File photo of police patrolling long lines at

File photo of police patrolling long lines at a Mobil station in Stony Point. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has accused several gas stations, including three stations in Westchester County, of allegedly gouging customers in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. (Nov. 3, 2012) Photo Credit: Susan Stava

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Three Westchester County gas stations are among a dozen under fire from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for allegedly gouging customers, some of whom waited in long lines to fill up in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

An investigation by Schneiderman's office determined that two Mobil stations in White Plains -- one at 174 Westchester Ave. and one on the Hutchinson River Parkway -- as well as a Shell station at 3709 Crompond Rd. in Cortlandt Manor had charged customers $5 to $5.05 per gallon in the days following the deadly storm.

The station on the Hutchinson River Parkway is well-known to Hudson Valley drivers as one of the busiest in the area.

Ten other stations were accused of price gouging in Queens, Suffolk and Nassau counties, Brooklyn and the Bronx, according to a news release from the AG's office.

"Our office has zero tolerance for price gouging, and we are taking action to send a message that ripping off New Yorkers is against the law," Schneiderman said in a statement Thursday afternoon. "We will do everything we can to stop unscrupulous individuals from taking advantage of New Yorkers trying to rebuild their lives."

A source familiar with the investigation told Newsday that the probe was "a warning shot" to gas station owners. If owners can prove that the elevated gas prices were a result of added security and staff or other legitimate business expenses, there will be no prosecution, the source said.

Managers for the gas stations couldn't be reached for comment, and store clerks who answered the phones declined to comment.

The AG's investigation found that a customer at a Mobil station on Crescent Street in Long Island City reported the listed price as $3.89 per gallon but was charged $4.99 in the aftermath of the storm. The line for the station was reportedly three city blocks long.

In another example, the Express mart station at 1000 Route 9 in Lindenhurst had no road signs listing gas prices -- just a wooden sign saying "cash only" -- and was charging customers who waited in long lines $4.99 a gallon.

Under state law, merchants are prohibited from taking unfair advantage of consumers by selling goods or services for an "unconscionably excessive price" during an "disruption of the market." The law covers vendors, retailers and suppliers, including supermarkets, gas stations, hardware stores, bodegas, delis, and taxi and livery cabdrivers.

Schneiderman said the price-gouging probe is part of a "series of actions taken in a wide-ranging investigation launched in the wake of Hurricane Sandy for price gouging after receiving hundreds of complaints from consumers."

In a separate action, Schneiderman issued subpoenas Wednesday to the Long Island Power Authority and Consolidated Edison for information about preparation, response and recovery efforts during superstorm Sandy, Newsday reported.

The investigation reportedly centers on whether LIPA and Con Ed lived up to legal obligations to provide a safe supply of power in a reliable manner. No employees were named.

It's the second wide-ranging investigation of utilities begun in as many days. On Tuesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo empaneled a special commission to probe storm responses by utilities and several state energy agencies. Unlike Cuomo's commission -- essentially a fact-finding body -- Schneiderman can prosecute or sue.

Hurricane Sandy hit the region Oct. 29. The storm knocked out power to 90 percent of Long Island, flooded subways and tunnels and killed more than 100 people on the East Coast.

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