Nixon says penalties paid for inflated gas prices after attack

Tuesday, October 2, 2001

Associated Press WriterJEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Missouri service stations that significantly raised prices after the terrorist attacks have paid fines totaling more than $60,000, Attorney General Jay Nixon said Tuesday.

The fines were paid by 48 service stations that raised prices above $2.49 a gallon immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

State investigators traveled to such areas as McDonald County in southwest Missouri and the suburbs of Kansas City and St. Louis to demand explanations of high prices and obtain records.

If the fines had not been paid by Monday, Nixon had threatened lawsuits under Missouri's consumer protection law that allows fines of up to $1,000 for each transaction.

The stations were required to pay fines of $750 or three times their profits for Sept. 11 -- whichever was larger -- plus $250 in investigative costs.

"Those who used the tragic events of Sept. 11 as an excuse to dramatically increase prices for necessities have discovered that any short-term gain has been quickly negated both by the legal trouble they found themselves in and by the condemnation of public opinion," Nixon said.

The fine money will go to school funds in the counties where the offending stations are located. As part of the recent filings in various circuit courts, the gas stations also agreed not to further violate the consumer protection law.

Wood Oil, which supplies seven stations, paid the highest fine of $5,500 while Duncan's Mobil in Doe Run paid $4,174. Lucas & Hunt Shell in St. Louis paid a fine of $3,422.

Ronald J. Leone, executive vice president of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, said those who raised their prices are only a small portion of the retailers statewide.

"The fact that the attorney general focused on 48 stations out of thousands of convenience stores and stations in Missouri clearly shows that the vast majority of gas stations and convenience stores took the brunt of the public's fear and outrage and still managed to provide consumers with plenty of fuel at very reasonable prices," Leone said.

The organization represents about 2,500 gas stations and convenience stores across the state.

Long lines of motorists were reported across the state after the crashes of hijacked jetliners caused consumer concerns about gas supplies. Nixon's office did not go after stations that raised their prices to levels below $2.49 a gallon.

"The citizens of Missouri were correct in their outrage, and they acted properly by reporting their observations to our office," Nixon said. "The stations have agreed to pay the penalty and I believe have learned from a mistake in judgment."

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