Thursday, July 31, 2008
Attorney General Abbott Files Legal Action Against Petroleum Wholesale for Shortchanging Texas DriversAUSTIN – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott took legal action today against Petroleum Wholesale, L.P., after an investigation by the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) found that The Woodlands-based company’s gas stations routinely failed to pump the amount of fuel its customers actually purchased.
“Texans are paying record gas prices, and when they purchase a gallon of gas, they expect to receive a full gallon,” Attorney General Abbott said. “Today’s enforcement action charges the defendant with shortchanging Texas drivers at the pump. Thanks to a thorough investigation by Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, the Office of the Attorney General is prepared to hold any wrongdoers accountable for violating the law.”
View Video of News Conference
TDA inspection of
Sunmart gas pumps
Sunmart gas station sign
|Attorney General's lawsuit against Petroleum Wholesale|
Petroleum Wholesale, which operates Sunmart Travel Centers & Convenience Stores in several states, is charged with violating the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA) by maintaining fuel pumps that were improperly calibrated in a manner that benefited the company financially. From July 18 – 20, TDA inspectors conducted Operation Spotlight, a concerted effort to test approximately 1,700 Sunmart pumps. The investigations revealed that 985 pumps were dispensing less than a full gallon of gas or diesel fuel. Fifteen Sunmart stations had 100 percent of their pumps calibrated in the company’s favor.
“Fair and honest businesses fuel the $1 trillion Texas economy,” Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said. “We will not tolerate a renegade company defrauding our consumers. It hurts families struggling in these challenging economic times and casts an unwarranted dark shadow over the business community. I commend Attorney General Abbott for his quick action on this serious matter, and I look forward to working with him to see all deceptive practices are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
The attorney general’s enforcement action also charges Sunmart with intentionally obstructing TDA’s investigation. Less than one day into their three-day investigation, TDA inspectors discovered that the defendant dispatched pump calibration technicians to several of its locations ahead of inspectors. Additionally, some Sunmart stations put “out of order” signs on their pumps in an effort to prevent them from being inspected, telling state inspectors that the pumps were “out of order” or “out of gas.” However, when TDA inspectors turned on these pumps, the inspectors found that they contained gasoline and were operational.
The attorney general is seeking civil penalties of up to $20,000 per violation of the DTPA as well as attorneys’ fees and customer restitution.
Today’s court filing marks the attorney general’s second enforcement action against Petroleum Wholesale in less than two months. On June 19, Attorney General Abbott charged the company with violations of the Identity Theft Enforcement and Protection Act for improperly dumping hundreds of customer records that contained sensitive information. According to investigators, the company carelessly exposed sales receipts with customers’ names and full credit or debit card numbers with expiration dates, returned checks and other documents bearing customers’ names, driver’s license and Social Security numbers. The case is pending.
Texans who believe they have encountered a fuel station that is shortchanging drivers should contact TDA at (800) TELL-TDA (835-5832) or visit the agency online at www.tda.state.tx.us.
For more information about Attorney General Abbott’s efforts to protect Texas consumers, contact the Office of the Attorney General at (800) 252-8011 or visit the agency online at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.