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Attorney General Demands Fines from Price Gougers

September 19, 2001
By: Anna Nichols
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The attorney general demanded Wednesday that some of the gas stations involved in price gouging on Sept. 11 pay $1,000 or face law suits.

Attorney General Jay Nixon characterized the price gougers as offensive for robbing the consumer in the face of this tragic situation.

"Law enforcement and the citizens of New York responded to the greatest tragedy we've had in this country in my lifetime: coolly, calmly, and in a controlled fashion. And 50 yahoos here in Missouri operating stations decided to try to make a buck," Nixon said.

Nixon sent 28 demand letters to the suspected stations. The attorney general's office has received hundreds of phone call and e-mail complaints about price gouging at about 50 stations statewide.

The demand letters advised the stations that charged over $2.49 per gallon that they must pay a minimum fine of $750 plus $250 in costs by Oct. 1 or face "aggressive litigation efforts on the part of the state."

The attorney general did not release specific names of the stations at this time.

A representative of the gasoline industry condemned the price gouging but insists the majority of gas stations did their job.

"The attorney general sent out 28 demand letters. There are thousands and thousands of gas stations in Missouri. The majority of these stations were not price gouging," said Ronald J. Leone, executive vice president of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association or MPCA.

The MPCA represents 2,500 convenience stores and gas stations in Missouri.

The demand for gasoline increased 400 percent in less than 24 hours due to panicked customers who had heard about the price gouging.

"Our members did a fantastic job providing plenty of supply at reasonable prices," Leone said. Many gas stations did increase their prices slightly, but they were justified "given the chaos and the information provided to them," Leone said.

Nixon cited his jurisdiction under a consumer protection law.

Although the law does not give the attorney general specific authority to regulate prices, an administrative rule adopted under that law does give his office authority in cases of substantial price increases in time of crisis. The attorney general determined the price gouging to be under his jurisdiction due to the panic the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 caused.