NEWARK – The Office of the Attorney General and its Divisions of Consumer Affairs and Law have reached settlements with another nine companies alleged to have price-gouged customers following Superstorm Sandy, Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced today. Under terms of these settlements, the State will obtain $437,538 in penalties, fees and consumer restitution.
To date, 18 of the 27 lawsuits filed by the Office of the Attorney General against businesses alleged to have engaged in price gouging during the State of Emergency declared for Superstorm Sandy by Governor Chris Christie have been resolved.
With the eight most recent consent settlements and one judgment announced today, the State will obtain $816,313 in civil penalties, consumer restitution and reimbursement of its attorneys’ fees and investigative costs.
“Under Governor Christie’s leadership, we’ve acted to hold accountable these businesses for their price gouging during the State of Emergency,” Acting Attorney General Hoffman said. “As we work to resolve the remaining lawsuits and investigations, all businesses in New Jersey should be on notice that we will never tolerate the gouging of consumers and that we will swiftly act against those who attempt to illegally enrich themselves during a declared State of Emergency.”
The Division of Consumer Affairs received more than 2,000 consumer complaints about alleged price gouging by gas stations, hotels and other businesses immediately following the State of Emergency declared on October 27, 2012. The first price-gouging lawsuits were filed by the Divisions of Law and Consumer Affairs in November 2012, with 27 businesses sued to date.
The lawsuits against the following nine businesses have been settled since the last round of case updates issued in July:
- Hospitality Management of Parsippany, LLC, d/b/a Days Inn, 3159 Route 46 East, Parsippany
Will pay $70,000.00, which includes $8,240.11 in consumer restitution. The State will receive $61,759.89, which includes $53,062.74 in civil penalties and $8,697.15 in attorneys’ fees and investigative costs.
- OM Dutt, LLC, d/b/a America’s Best Value Inn, 1311 Route 22 West, Phillipsburg
Will pay $7,909.50. An additional $40,000 civil penalty is suspended, but will become payable if violations occur within two years.
- Ratan Hospitality Group, LLC, d/b/a Howard Johnson Express, 625 Rt. 46 East, Parsippany; Howard Johnson Express, 680 Rt. 3 West, Clifton; Holiday Inn Express, 2600 Tonnelle Ave., North Bergen; and Ramada Inn, 120 Evergreen Place, East Orange
Will pay $111,700.00, which includes $9,588.56 in consumer restitution. The State will receive $86,860.84 in civil penalties and $15,250.60 in attorneys’ fees and investigative costs.
- Riya Hazlet Hotel, d/b/a Holiday Inn, 2870 Rt. 35, Hazlet
Will pay $75,000.00, which includes $2,951.91 in consumer restitution. The State will receive $52,121.73 in civil penalties and $19,926.36 in attorneys’ fees and investigative costs.
- Alen Service Corp., doing business as (d/b/a) Lukoil gas station, 335 McCarter Highway, Newark
Will pay the State a total of $30,000.00, including $9,179.42 in civil penalties and $20,820.58 for reimbursement of its attorneys’ fees and investigative costs. An additional $7,500.00 civil penalty is suspended but will become payable if violations occur during the next year.
- Empire Oil, LLC, d/b/a Delta gas station, 7319 Bergenline Ave., North Bergen
Will pay $18,000.00 in civil penalties to the State. An additional $36,400.00 penalty is suspended, but will become payable if violations occur during the next three years.
- Jenny’s Shell Station, LLC, 461 Bloomfield Avenue, Bloomfield
Will pay $40,000.00, which includes $33,535.87 in civil penalties and $6,464.13 in attorneys’ fees and costs.
- Vinny Fuel Corp, d/b/a Delta gas station, 141 Bloomfield Ave., Bloomfield
Will pay $15,000.00 in civil penalties to the State. An additional $6,927.44 penalty is suspended but will become payable if violations occur during the next two years.
In addition, the Court granted the State’s motion for Summary Judgment against Perth Amboy NJPO LLC, d/b/a BP, 163 Fayette St., Perth Amboy. The Court has ordered payment of $69,929.52, comprised of $51,859.52 in civil penalties and $18,070.00 in attorneys’ fees and costs.
“Through the resolution of the actions to date, a total of $30,000 in restitution will be paid to consumers who allegedly were overcharged by hotels, many of whom sought shelter after their homes were flooded and damaged, in addition to hundreds of thousands in penalties,” said Eric T. Kanefsky, Director of the State Division of Consumer Affairs. “We expect all of our state’s businesses to comply with our price-gouging law during future states of emergency and our investigators stand ready to ensure they do so.”
New Jersey’s price gouging law prohibits excessive price increases during a declared state of emergency or for 30 days after the termination of the state of emergency. Excessive price increases are defined as more than 10 percent higher than the price at which merchandise was sold during the normal course of business prior to the state of emergency. If a merchant incurs additional costs during the state of emergency, prices may not exceed 10 percent above the normal markup from cost.
In concluding these lawsuits with the State, the businesses made no admission of liability. Investigators within the Division’s Office of Consumer Protection investigated these matters. Deputy Attorneys General Lorraine K. Rak, Chief of the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section in the Division of Law, and Labinot A. Berlajolli, Stacy-Ann T. Davy, Martin B. Gandelman, Glenn T. Graham, Megan Harris, Jah-Juin Ho, Nicholas Kant, Jeffrey Koziar, and Alina Wells, and Special Deputy Attorney General Krima D. Shah represented the State in these actions.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.
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