Friday, September 21, 2001

Prosecutors seek law against gas profiteering

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Kenton County's prosecutors want state legislators to strengthen laws aimed at gasoline stations that gouge customers.

        After last week's terrorist attacks, motorists flocked to gas stations to fill their tanks.

        Though there was no disruption of the nation's oil supply, some stations raised pricesto as much as $4 a gallon in Kenton County, according to Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney Bill Crockett.

        “That was profiteering,” said Mr. Crockett, the state's top criminal prosecutor in Kenton County. “We need something on the books that makes that a crime.”

        That has prompted Mr. Crockett and Kenton County Attorney Garry Edmondson to begin researching a law with criminal penalties for gasoline profiteering.

        They talked to Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington, about sponsoring the law in the 2001 session of the Kentucky General Assembly, which begins in January.

        Mr. Simpson could not be reached for comment.

        The attorney generals from Kentucky and Ohio use civil penalties and fines under consumer protection laws to punish stations that take advantage of situations by raising prices.

        Barbara Hadley Smith, a spokeswoman for Kentucky Attorney General Ben Chandler, said that while businesses can be fined up to $2,000 under consumer protection laws for gas gouging, there is no law to go after the business owners with criminal penalties.

        “It can be very difficult to prove,” Ms. Hadley Smith said Thursday. “We can't really comment on any legislation that is pending or proposed, but we would be interested in seeing the legislation once it is filed.”

        Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery has lawsuits under the Ohio Sales Practices Act pending against eight gas stations for committing “unfair, deceptive and unconscionable acts.”

        Ms. Montgomery believes filing the lawsuits is an effective way to prevent and prosecute gasoline gouging, said spokeswoman Stephanie Beougher.


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