Tallahassee Democrat: (FL)
December 6, 2001
STATE FINES 53 GAS STATIONS
BUT SOME OF THE 12 AREA STATIONS
DENY PRICE GOUGING AFTER ATTACKS
Author: Bill Cotterell, DEMOCRAT SENIOR WRITER
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson sought fines
totaling $86,000 from more than 50 filling stations Tuesday for jacking up gas
prices when terrorism raised fears about fuel supplies.
An attorney for a large truck stop chain hit with one of the biggest fines
and the operators of a Panacea bait and tackle shop that drew only a warning denied
any "price gouging." Clerks said stations all over the country were told
to hike prices in anticipation of higher replacement costs, but they lowered them
when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks did not cause a new Middle East oil embargo.
"The message here today is that if you exploit our
citizens in an emergency, you will pay a price," Bronson said in announcing
civil enforcement actions. His office worked with Attorney General Bob Butterworth
for more than two months on billing records at station where customers filed
Bronson sought fines ranging from $10,000 to
$500 against 53 stations and issued warning letters to nine others under a state
law allowing investigators to determine whether price hikes are justified in an
Flying J Travel Plaza
near Midway was accused of raising prices between 30 and 39 cents a gallon
immediately after the attacks in New York and suburban Washington. That could bring
a civil fine of up to $5,000, but company attorney Barre Burgon said
will fight the charges.
"I don't think we're at all guilty of price
gouging," Burgon said. "Those guys in Florida are operating outside the
realm of reality completely."
He said "we were
being bombarded with notices of cutoffs, price increases and allocation of fuels
" Sept. 11 and "we did what we thought best" to meet continued fuel
, which operates about 150
truck stops nationwide, made two increases of 20 cents each when it appeared that
resupply prices were going up. But he said "when we learned there was not
going to be a supply shortage, we went right back down. We didn't have time to
sit around and figure out which stations would have increases, and how much, that
Merchant denies charges
Eloise Crum, co-owner of Crum's Mini Mall in Panacea, said her warning
letter was prompted by one unfounded complaint by a customer who was dissatisfied
with an unrelated business transaction. She said Bronson's department told her
"that we complied with all state regulations," but that warnings
were issued on every complaint.
Crum said the shop closed
an hour early because of increased demand that Tuesday. She said the Amoco station
raised prices 8 cents per gallon for a few hours on the next day, when all other
stations in the area were hiking prices because they were going to have to pay more
for their next shipments of fuel.
"We're not trying
to rip anyone off or gouge people," said Rhonda Plouffe, the station
Four Swifty Serve shops and two E-Z Serve stores
in Leon and Wakulla counties were among those cited by Bronson. Terence McElroy, an
aide to the commissioner, said businesses can contest the fines in court, but
Bronson also wants them to sign "voluntary compliance" agreements on
Those settlements do not admit guilt but
say the station owners understand requirements of the price-gouging law.
Contact reporter Bill Cotterell at (850) 599-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
AREA STATIONS FINED, WARNED
Here's a list of area filling stations cited by
Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson in his civil complaints of excessive
price hikes after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The allegations have not been
proven and may be challenged by the businesses.
Flying J Travel Plaza, Midway
Riverview Bait & Tackle, Chattahoochee
Williams Travel Center, Midway
Swifty Serve, 1495 Capital Circle N.W.
Swifty Serve, 2848 S. Adams St.
Swifty Serve, 3101 W. Tennessee St.
Capital Chevron, 1662 Capital Circle N.W.
E-Z Serve, 1306 Coastal Highway, Panacea
E-Z Serve/Swifty Serve, Crawfordville
Express Lane, Carrabelle
Swifty Serve/Swifty Mart, Carrabelle
Swifty Serve, 3497 N. Monroe St.
Crum's Mini Mall, Panacea
E-Z Serve, St. George Island
Swifty Serve, 145 Timberland Road
Copyright (c) 2001 Tallahassee Democrat
Record Number: 0112190013
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