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Spitzer Asks New York Retailers to Show their Books

NEW YORK -- In response to consumer complaints of alleged gas-price gouging, New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's office has collected documentation of recent retail prices and wholesale costs from about 65 service stations and convenience stores.

The New York Association of Convenience Stores said that letters, not summonses or subpoenas, went out Sept. 7 to selected retailers requesting price data by Sept. 12 as part of an investigation of whether price hikes in the aftermath of Katrina were warranted.

"As much as we despise such fishing expeditions, we recommended that member retailers who were contacted comply fully with the request," said NYACS president James Calvin. "To my knowledge, all of our members acted responsibly and in the best interests of their customers in reacting to the wild surge in wholesale prices."

Spitzer asked each retailer to provide the following documentation. The price at which they sold their lowest priced grade of gas on every day between Aug. 1 and Sept. 7. If the gas was sold at more than one price on a single day, they were asked to indicate the time periods during which each price was in effect.

Retailers also had to provide the price they paid for the lowest priced gas they sold for all gas purchased between July 1 and Sept. 7. They were told to indicate the date and time of the purchase, the volume of gas purchased and the price per gallon they paid for it. Lastly, retailers were asked to submit copies of all invoices for gas purchased between July 1 and Sept. 7.

"While the letter assured the retailers that they were not being accused of any wrongdoing, they managed to work the terms 'price gouging,' 'fraud perpetrated by businesses on consumers' and 'deceptive business practices' into the first paragraph," Calvin said.

Marc Violette, Spitzer’s spokesman, told NYACS it was "an effort by our office to better understand the economic factors that underlie the price we pay at the pump." He said they would not disclose the stores’ locations in the media. "We don't want to stigmatize them," Violette said. "We're not prejudging the situation. We're not assuming any illegal activity is under way. It's quite possible the station owners have a story to tell and we want to hear it."
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