Schneiderman: 'You Cannot Charge Unconscionably Excessive Prices'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Dozens of gas stations in New York City and the surrounding suburbs found to have price gouged customers following superstorm Sandy have paid up for the illegal practice, State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced Thursday.

In the days after Sandy, people were desperate for gas and some gas stations took advantage of that desperation by price gouging.

“Most New Yorkers stepped up to the plate, small number didn’t. Those are the people we’re pursuing,” Schneiderman told reporters, including WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell.

Schneiderman said 25 stations have reached settlements and four others are currently being sued.

As CBS 2’s Lou Young reported, one of the stations in the Bronx found to have price gouged its customers had its sign covered up Thursday as if in shame.

At others in Queens and Long Island, owners and employees were simply unwilling to discuss the matter.

“I don’t know what they said,” a gas station worker yelled at CBS 2’s Young. “Get that camera out of here!”

The settlements with 25 of the service stations total $167,850. Investigations are pending against dozens of other gas stations, according to the AG’s office.

“In a time of emergency, you cannot charge unconscionably excessive prices,” said Schneiderman. “We will not tolerate that sort of conduct in the state of New York.”

The fines are designed to get the price gouger’s attention but not put them out of business, Schneiderman said.

“There’s a great expression in this town: ‘Ball don’t lie.’ Gas prices don’t lie. Everyone we brought in action against could not defend the unconscionable increase in their gas prices,” the AG added.

Some stations increased the spread between wholesale and retail prices by more than 100 percent. Legal action against other stations and other industries is still being pursued.

One gas station in the Bronx was charging $5.39 a gallon in the aftermath of the storm, according to the investigation. Others across the region were getting $4.59 a gallon.

The price gouging had some drivers fuming.

“It’s not good. We are all struggling. Why take from the little poor people and, I’m pretty sure, making his pocket fat? That’s not right,” Hunts Point resident Rose Bryant told Young.

According to the report, some gas stations changed their prices multiple times a day.

“The only folks we’re pursuing are people who could not demonstrate that they had additional expenses or some excuse other than sheer greed,” said Schneiderman.

The AG added that letters went out before the storm hit, warning businesses against illegal price gouging.

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