A North Texas gas station chain is among the Texas businesses named in price gouging lawsuits filed in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, attorney general Ken Paxton's office announced Tuesday.
Texas law prohibits businesses from charging exorbitant prices for drinking water, food, clothing and fuel during a declared disaster.
NBC 5 Responds reported earlier this month that investigators were looking into the complaints and trying to prove the pricing was unfair. Now, they feel the proof is there, and they are ready to take it before a judge.
A reader sent the Arlington Voice a photo indicating he paid $6.99 a gallon for regular unleaded gas at the Mobil station on Green Oaks in Arlington on Aug. 31. Signs posted at the stations reportedly advertised prices between $3-$4 per gallon. The station is owned by Bains Brothers Petroleum, which owns several Texaco-branded gas stations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
The AG's Office filed suit against the gas station owner for the gouging reported to them. We left messages for the owners of Bains Brothers, but our calls weren't returned.
Robstown Enterprises, Inc., which operated the Best Western Plus Tropic Inn in Robstown, charged three times its normal room rate during the weekend Hurricane Harvey hit, authorities said. The news release said Best Western has since ended its relationship with the company.
"We called the hotel chain and they refunded the difference of a fair price and what the hotel was charging. [They] also refunded the other 39 rooms their price difference, and the next day the national chain whose name was on the sign jerked their name off that hotel and no longer allowed that owner to be a franchisee," said Marc Rylander, with the Attorney General's Office.
A Chevron-branded gas station near Laredo was also accused of charging customers $8.99 and $9.99 a gallon for regular unleaded gas on Aug. 31.
State prosecutors say they've received more than 3,300 price gouging complaints resulting from Hurricane Harvey.
Assistant Attorney General Brad Carpenter told said investigators got many complaints but are going after cases they know are air-tight.
"The hardest things about these cases are proving that they happened," Carpenter said.
Photos certainly help, because they offer some type of proof. It's even better when they show the specific location. It's something to remember as a consumer when documenting possible price gouging.
Price gouging penalties can reach $20,000 for each violation and an additional amount of up to $250,000 in cases where victims 65-years-old or older were targeted.
Texans who believe they've been scammed or price gouged should call the attorney general's Consumer Protection Hotline at 800-621-0508, email firstname.lastname@example.org or file a complaint on the attorney general's website.