9/13/01: State gas stations charged with fraud
This story originally appeared on Sept. 13, 2001.
SPRINGFIELD - The state is taking at least one gas station company to court, charging unfair business practices after prices jumped up to $5 a gallon at some locations following Tuesday's terrorist attacks.
Attorney General Jim Ryan Wednesday filed a lawsuit against Iowa- based Casey's General Store Inc., alleging price gouging at 13 stations in Andalusia, Port Byron, Peoria, West Peoria, Monmouth, Galesburg, Belleville, Chillicothe, Farmington, North Pekin, Pekin, Morton and Creve Coeur.
"It is despicable in light of what happened yesterday in New York and Washington," Ryan said.
A corporate spokesman for Casey's General Store did not return calls Wednesday.
If the 13 stations are convicted of knowingly exploiting Illinois customers, the penalty is up to $50,000 per occurrence.
"I'd like to know what justification there is to go from $1.68 to $5," Ryan said, calling the company's actions "unfair and unconscionable."
According to Bill Fleischli, vice president of Illinois Petroleum Marketers Association, wholesale gas prices rose between 18 and 30 cents a gallon Tuesday.
Casey's General Store does not belong to the association, he said.
"Our membership did everything it could to keep the facilities open and respond," Fleischli said. "There was an incredible run on product, record volumes."
The 13 gas stations named in the attorney general's lawsuit may not be the only ones facing legal battles. It is possible other cases will be filed, said Ryan spokesman Dan Curry.
Ryan said the investigation is ongoing, and urged customers who feel they may have been taken advantage of at the pumps to call the consumer hot line and report the station name and location and the amount per gallon they paid.
Attorneys general in states including Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, Oregon and Kansas also are investigating complaints of price gouging.
The nationwide gas price spikes have also drawn attention on Capitol Hill.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., called for residents to report suspected price gouging to his office for investigation by the U.S. Senate.
Customers should send to Durbin's office their name, address, phone number, information about where they bought their gas and how much they were charged and a receipt, if possible.
"These station owners should be ashamed of themselves for profiting off of tragedy and creating a panicked atmosphere," Durbin said.
U.S. Rep Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, said oil companies should be wary of raising prices.
"I am ... outraged to hear the numerous stories ... that oil companies have been shooting gasoline prices upward," Johnson said. "It sounds to me as if they are literally taking advantage of their fellow Americans during a horrific situation, just so they can make an extra buck. This sort of activity will not be tolerated. These companies should take note that we will do whatever it takes to end this."
State Rep. Tom Berns, R-Urbana, called on residents to shop for fuel carefully.
"As consumers, we can make an impact by supporting only those local businesses that have behaved responsibly and by reporting those who may be attempting to capitalize on a national tragedy to line their pockets," Berns said.
State Rep. Rick Winkel, R-Champaign, said price hikes before the tragedy were suspect, too.
"We have suspected for some time now that gas prices are frequently raised for improper reasons," said Winkel in a news release.
"But now," he said, "certain gas stations have reached a new low."