- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A local gasoline station magnate who has faced criticism for high prices at his pumps says he plans to fight a lawsuit filed against his companies by the District’s attorney general.

Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan filed a lawsuit Tuesday against companies owned by Eyob “Joe” Mamo, whose empire distributes gasoline to 60 percent of the city’s stations, in a bid to lower prices.

In a complaint filed in D.C. Superior Court, Mr. Nathan went after gasoline distributors he said are violating the District’s Retail Services Act through “exclusive-supply agreements” that don’t allow for competitive pricing. The lawsuit names distributors Capitol Petroleum Group LLC, Anacostia Realty LLC and Springfield Petroleum Realty LLC as well as ExxonMobil Corp. as defendants.

The lawsuit states that the distributors supply gas for about 60 percent of the 107 gasoline stations in the District and challenges agreements made by ExxonMobil that force 27 independently owned Exxon stations to purchase gas through these distributors.

“Under the District’s gasoline marketing law, a retail gasoline dealer is free to purchase a brand of gasoline from any supplier of the brand,” Mr. Nathan said in a statement. “Our suit seeks to end these unlawful supply restrictions, increase wholesale competition, and bring down retail prices at the pump.”

But Mr. Mamo said his business agreements do not violate D.C. law.

“The District of Columbia is targeting distributors for legitimate operating agreements that have been in place for years and are lawful under the District’s Retail Service Station Act,” Mr. Mamo said in a statement released through a spokeswoman. “These agreements are not the type of exclusive agreements that are prohibited by D.C. law.”

Mr. Mamo, a self-made businessman who purchased his first District gas station in 1987, has been the target of investigations into his business empire before. Last year, legislation that would have threatened his operation failed in the D.C. Council.

The council legislation, sponsored by Mary M. Cheh, would have prevented gas distributors from also operating gas stations. Ms. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, cheered the attorney general’s lawsuit, calling Mr. Mamo’s business practices “monopolistic.”

“You have to sign an exclusivity deal with Mamo to take his gas as part of your lease of the premises,” she said.

Mr. Mamo last year also beat an antitrust lawsuit in federal court in Alexandria, and the city’s attorney general dropped an investigation into claims that he inflated prices.

Though the attorney general’s office closed the earlier investigation — which focused on antitrust laws — an official with the office said this lawsuit was an indirect outgrowth of the previous investigation.

An initial hearing in the court case is scheduled for December.