Gas station settles price gouging case

SHAWSVILLE – A Shawsville gas station charged with violating the Virginia Post-Disaster Anti-Price Gouging Act last year settled with the state Friday.

Shawnee Mini-Mart has agreed to pay almost $2,000 in fines and restitution for raising its gas prices 36 percent over the span of five days in September, 2008, according to a statement from Virginia Attorney General Bill Mims.

“This settlement is the sixth legal action relating to the spike in gasoline prices seen in anticipation of Hurricane Ike last year,” Mims said. “I hope these actions send a strong message that Virginia enforces its Anti-Price Gouging Act. We will not tolerate those who take advantage of Virginians by price gouging for gasoline or other necessities following a disaster.”

The settlement relates to allegations that Shawnee Mini-Mart violated the Virginia Post-Disaster Anti-Price Gouging Act by charging unconscionable prices for gasoline after Gov. Tim Kaine declared a state of emergency Sept. 10, 2008 as Hurricane Ike approached the Gulf Coast. The settlement, technically known as an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance, was filed with Montgomery County Circuit Court.

In the Complaint filed along with the Assurance, Mims alleged that prices Shawnee charged for gasoline on Sept. 12, Sept. 13, 2008, and Sept. 14, 2008, grossly exceeded the prices the station charged during the 10 days immediately before the governor’s declaration. The Complaint alleges that the station’s prices of $4.869 for regular gas, $4.699 and $4.969 for mid-grade gas, and $4.799 and $5.069 for premium gas. According to the Complaint, the Regular gasoline price of $4.869 represented a 36 percent increase over the station’s Sept. 9 price of $3.569.

Besides barring Shawnee from engaging in any of the practices that violate the Virginia Post-Disaster Anti-Price Gouging Act, and the Virginia Consumer Protection Act, the settlement requires Shawnee to set aside $250 for consumer restitution, Mims said.

“This amount is based, in part, on sales transaction records Shawnee Mini-Mart provided identifying gasoline transaction sales made September 12, 13 and 14 at the prices deemed unconscionable,” Mims said.

According to additional settlement requirements, Shawnee must provide notice to its customers that they may be eligible for restitution by posting signs on its front door and on each gas pump. Shawnee is set to pay refunds of the difference between the Sept. 9 prices and the overcharges to credit and debit card customers who purchased gasoline at the prices on Sept. 12, 13, and 14, according to the settlement.

Shawnee Mini-Mart will also pay $1,200 to reimburse the Commonwealth for its costs, investigative expenses and attorneys’ fees in the matter, Mims said. In addition, the settlement Shawnee Mini-Mart includes making a $500 donation to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. This payment is in lieu of a payment of civil penalties, Mims said.

Mims noted in his statement that Shawnee Mini-Mart cooperated fully with his office and with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services throughout the investigation.