Jurors Decide SunMart's Pumps Were Rigged

HOUSTON -- A Harris County jury handed down a $30 million verdict against the Houston-based owner of SunMart convenience stores. The chain was accused of cheating customers by giving them less fuel than they paid for, according to a report by The Houston Chronicle.

Attorney General Greg Abbott said the gas pumps at 86 Texas stations owned by parent company Petroleum Wholesale were illegally set to deliver less than a full gallon of gasoline.

"The jury's verdict reflects a significant and well-deserved rebuke to SunMart's fraudulent pump calibration scheme," Abbott told the newspaper.

Petroleum Wholesale officials denied bilking customers, said they will appeal the decision.

"We believe the jury disregarded tolerances, long recognized by law, and held us to a standard of perfection that neither we, nor anyone in the retail fuel industry, can attain," said Stuart Lapp, general counsel for Petroleum Wholesale.

The verdict ended an eight-week trial that originated in July 2008 when Texas Department of Agriculture inspectors launched Operation Spotlight, which tested more than 1,700 pumps at the Texas SunMart stores. Officials said 985 of the pumps were set to dispense less than a full gallon of gas. State officials also accused the company of sending workers to recalibrate the pumps before state examiners could reach the SunMart locations, the report stated.

Petroleum Wholesale was charged with violating the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

Jurors were given 48 boxes of fuel receipts, covering more than 5,700,000 gallons of gasoline and more than 727,000 fraudulent sales transactions. The jury found Petroleum Wholesale liable for almost $19 million in restitution, more than $8 million in civil penalties and almost $3 million in fees to the state, officials said in the newspaper report.

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