Prosecution of Alleged Sale of Aviation Fuel to Unsuspecting Motorists Leads to $137,000 in Settlements Obtained by New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs
Gas Station Owner, Fuel Distributor, Fuel Transporter Settle State Allegations
NEWARK – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman today announced that the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs and its Office of Weights and Measures have obtained settlements totaling $137,000 from three companies - a gas station owner, fuel distributor, and fuel transporter – implicated in the 2012 sale of aviation fuel ("avgas") to unsuspecting motorists at six Central New Jersey gas stations.
Avgas contains tetraethyl lead, a toxic substance that can damage cars' catalytic converters and oxygen sensors. Avgas is appropriate for certain aircraft, but not for cars and other motor vehicles. The affected consumers thought they were filling their cars with ordinary, unleaded gasoline.
"Our laws require honesty and transparency from merchants who sell gasoline and other products – especially if those products may be harmful," Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said. "The sale of leaded aviation fuel to motorists who think they are purchasing unleaded motor fuel, with no awareness of the damage aviation fuel can do to their cars, is unconscionable."
Division of Consumer Affairs Acting Director Steve C. Lee said, "Some consumers suffered real monetary losses after filling their cars with potentially harmful airplane fuel. This settlement provides them with restitution. It also reminds New Jersey's fuel merchants of their clear responsibility to follow the law – and give motorists exactly what is advertised when selling motor fuel."
The settlements include $85,000 from Pasmel Property, Inc., the Freehold-based company that owns the six Central New Jersey gas stations that sold the avgas to consumers. It also includes $32,000 from Pittsgrove-based Lee Transport, a fuel transporter, and $20,000 from Brooklyn-based Zephyr Oil, a fuel distributor.
The settlement money from Pasmel Property includes $7,536.50 in restitution for consumers who demonstrated that their vehicles were damaged by the avgas, or that they paid to have the fuel removed from their vehicles. The remaining settlement amounts from all three companies represent civil penalties and reimbursement for the State's investigative and legal costs.
The State's complaint, filed in Monmouth County Superior Court, made the following allegations:
On or about December 4, 2012, Zephyr Oil purchased approximately 73,000 gallons of 100 octane avgas. Zephyr Oil sold the fuel to Pasmel Property at a significant discount compared to the price of premium motor fuel. Lee Transport subsequently delivered the avgas to the six Pasmel Property gas stations.
Those six gas stations (Daninka, in North Plainfield; Express Fuel, in Trenton; Keyport Delta; Manasquan Lukoil; Lawrenceville Lukoil; and Scotch Plains Lukoil) then sold the avgas to unsuspecting motorists, while identifying it as regular, plus, and/or premium gasoline.
Zephyr Oil, Lee Transport, and Pasmel all knew or should have known that the fuel being delivered to the Pasmel stations was avgas. The bills of lading clearly noted that the fuel was "AVGAS – Aviation." In addition, the loading forms signed by Lee Transport identified the fuel as "AVGAS," as did the weight tickets from the Bayonne fuel terminal.
It was not until the afternoon of December 7, 2012 that an employee of the fuel terminal learned from a Lee Transport driver, that Lee Transport was delivering the avgas to gas stations, according to the State's lawsuit.
The State alleged that all defendants committed violations of the Consumer Fraud Act. In addition, the State alleged that Pasmel Properties committed violations of the Motor Fuels Act, Weights and Measures Act, Motor Fuels Regulations, and Advertising Regulations. All defendants denied the allegations.
Enforcement Supervisor John McGuire, of the New Jersey Office of Weights and Measures within the Division of Consumer Affairs, conducted this investigation. Superintendent Benjamin Paluso of the Monmouth County Office of Weights and Measures, Superintendent John Worth of the Mercer County Office of Weights and Measures, and Superintendent Michael Florio of the Union County Office of Weights and Measures all participated in the investigation. Investigator Barbara Ferris, of the Office of Consumer Protection within the Division of Consumer Affairs, also participated in the investigation.
Deputy Attorneys General Glenn T. Graham and Jeffrey Koziar, of the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section within the Division of Law, represented the State in this action.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file an
online complaint form with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.