Gas station owners agree to refunds

Some consumers who said they paid too much for gas last month are getting their money back.

Gas station owners in Cumberland, Cherokee and Clay counties have agreed to repay thousands of dollars to customers who bought overpriced gas during the statewide shortage, the N.C. attorney general's office said Monday.

Attorney General Roy Cooper has also filed a lawsuit against a station in Troy, 60 miles east of Charlotte, and staffers at his office say there could be more suits, settlements – and refunds – in coming weeks.

“When families are struggling to make ends meet, the last thing they need is to be gouged at the pump,” Cooper said in a news release Monday. “These stations are making things right for consumers, and other stations should do the same.”

Cooper began investigating possible price gouging, or charging too much in a time of crisis, in mid-September as Hurricane Ike struck the Gulf Coast, disrupting gas supplies to Charlotte and much of the Southeast. His office was flooded with complaints; at last count, officials had received more than 4,700 reports of price gouging, spokeswoman Jennifer Canada said.

Cooper's office has issued about two dozen subpoenas to gas station owners, including one in Charlotte.

The agreements and lawsuit announced Monday were the first to come out of last month's gas crisis, though the investigation continues, Canada said.

One of the stations that settled was a Circle B in Fayetteville, whose prices jumped to $5.49 per gallon from $3.99 Sept. 12, meaning it overcharged customers by more than $1,000 that day, the attorney general's office said.

The station's president agreed to refund $1.50 per gallon to consumers. Customers who paid with a credit card will automatically receive the refunds. Consumers who paid cash have 30 days to present a receipt to get the money back.

The Circle B will also pay $5,000 in civil penalties to the state, money that will go to local schools. A woman who answered the phone at the station Monday said no one was available to comment.

Cooper also reached an agreement with five Big D gas stations in Murphy, Marble and Hayesville, towns in southwestern North Carolina near the Tennessee line.

He argued that consumers were overcharged more than $2,300 on Sept. 12-13, with the station charging up to $4.99.

Samuel Duncan Sr., president of the Duncan Oil Co. in Murphy, which supplies the stations and sets the prices, agreed to refund customers, with the amounts varying based on the station and grade of gasoline. The company will also pay $10,000 in penalties.

Duncan declined to comment Monday.

In the lawsuit filed Monday, Cooper alleged that Tire Pros in Troy raised gas prices to $5.98 a gallon Sept. 12, meaning the station's profits rose to $2.23 per gallon from about 14 cents a gallon. He's asking the court to order the company to refund customers and pay civil penalties.

Owner and manager Steve Compton declined to comment Monday.

Companies that agree to pay customers back must provide a sworn accounting of all refunds to the attorney general's office, officials said.