- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2006

A Centreville gasoline station that charged up to $5.89 per gallon for regular gas days after Hurricane Katrina hit has settled a price-gouging case with Virginia and will have to refund customers.

The Centreville Shell station, at 13401 Lee Highway, would have to make $3,000 available to refund customers with receipts showing they paid more than $4.799 per gallon on Sept. 2. The amount is based on sales receipts the station provided for that day.

The station charged up to $5.999 per gallon for mid-grade and premium gas. The average price in the Washington area was $2.89 per gallon, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.

The settlement must be approved by a Fairfax County Circuit Court judge.

The Office of the Attorney General received complaints that the station was violating the 2004 Virginia Post-Disaster Anti-Price Gouging Act, which prohibits charging unjustifiable prices for necessary goods during a state of emergency. Former Gov. Mark Warner declared a state of emergency after the hurricane.

“During natural disasters it is unlawful for any business to intentionally overcharge for services,” Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell said Thursday. “Businesses should never use disasters as opportunities to take advantage of vulnerable consumers.”

The station is also required to post signs on its front door and at the pump notifying customers they can be reimbursed.

In addition to the customer restitution, the station also would have to contribute $1,000 to the American Red Cross Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund in lieu of civil fines and $1,000 to the attorney general’s office for costs.

In the days after the storm, which damaged oil refineries and other critical infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico, gasoline prices rose quickly in the Washington area as well as throughout the country.

On Sept. 7, the District’s average fuel price reached a record high of $3.38 per gallon, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.

The attorney general’s office is not aware of any prior gouging allegations against the gas station, a spokesman said.

Repeated calls to the Centreville Shell went unanswered or reached a busy signal yesterday.

One other gas station, Discount Tire & Gas in Falls Church, has settled an anti-gouging case for raising its prices after Hurricane Katrina.

That station gradually increased its prices 53 percent to $4.599 for mid-grade gas and $4.799 for premium gas Sept. 2 and 3, according to the attorney general’s office.

The station was required to set aside $700 for consumer restitution, pay $2,000 to reimburse the attorney general’s office for its costs and donate $1,500 to the American Red Cross Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund.

The attorney general’s office would not comment on whether other gas stations are under investigation.

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