N.J.: Many gas station owners cheating motorists
By Edward Colimore
Inquirer Staff Writer
With gas prices hovering at $4 a gallon, the pain at the pumps has been more painful in New Jersey because hundreds of unscrupulous gas station operators have been cheating motorists, state officials said yesterday.
Nearly a quarter of the 1,023 stations recently checked by inspectors were cited with 350 violations, said state Attorney General Anne Milgram.
Weights and measures inspectors discovered pricing discrepancies, inaccurate octane ratings and equipment that was improperly calibrated during a three-day check at the end of May.
"Consumers deserve to get what they pay for, especially when they are paying record-setting prices for gasoline," Milgram said during a news conference at a West Orange station that was undergoing an annual inspection.
"We cannot control the price of the gasoline but we can, and we are, upholding our laws and regulations regarding the sale of motor fuels."
Milgram said she believed most of the violations were intentional, and said she had little tolerance for accidental violations because gas station operators were responsible for knowing and following the law.
The attorney general called the findings of the state and county inspectors "deeply troubling" and added that stepped-up enforcement will continue. The state's 21 counties have 3,142 gas stations.
Fifty three of the more than 240 stations ticketed by authorities were in Burlington County, 27 were in Camden County and four were in Gloucester County.
While many of the violations directly affected the pump prices, others involved missing paperwork and signs that did not meet state specifications.
Officials for the New Jersey Gasoline Retailers Association and Allied Trades could not be reached late yesterday for comment.
The state's crackdown follows complaints from New Jersey drivers that they were being ripped off as they paid $4 gas prices - an amount more than $1 per gallon higher than the $2.91 average price of a year ago.
Gas station dealers who violate the per-gallon pricing requirements face civil fines of up to $1,500 for the first offense and up to $3,000 for subsequent offenses.
Individual counties process the violations and can also suspend a gas station's operating license for five to 30 days.
Milgram last week announced charges against a dozen state employees for stealing gasoline from government fill-up stations. She said then that the state would complete a follow-up audit of vehicle and gasoline use by thousands of Children and Families Department workers.
In the latest sweep, inspectors cited stations that did not give motorists the amount of gas they paid for. Others charged premium prices but dispensed lower octane fuel.
"Let the word go out loud and clear - we have no tolerance for any gas station operator who tries to scam motorists who are already struggling with record gas prices," state Consumer Affairs Director David Szuchman said yesterday.
Customers who suspect violations are asked to immediately call the state's weights and measures office at 732-815-4840 .