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Deceiving or cheating consumers at the pump

A North Platte Shell Timesaver gas station was briefly shut down in February for having too much ethanol in its advertised 10-percent ethanol pumps. Statewide investigations of gas stations continue, including one investigation in North Platte.

The North Platte Telegraph

AG’s pledge coming to fruition

By Mark Young

Published: Friday, August 22, 2008 4:45 AM CDT

Attorney General Jon Bruning has had his hands full with gas station owners and distributors across Nebraska determined to deceive or cheat consumers at the pump.

Following a May Telegraph story revealing that the Department of Weights and Measures were finding wide scale cheating by gas station owners who were filling up their regular unleaded pumps with ethanol-based fuel – but still selling it at the higher unleaded rate – Bruning promised prosecution.

On Tuesday, Bruning announced via press conference that the first of the prosecutions are going forward with a Burt County station owner and a distributor who encouraged the scam of putting ethanol in fuel destined for unleaded pumps.

Tom Weise, owner of two Express gas stations in Scribner and Decatur, faces three counts of theft by deception, one count of criminal simulation and one count of deceptive advertising. Tim Kaup, general manager for Sapp Bros. distribution in West Point, is charged with aiding and abetting Weise in committing seven counts of theft by deception, one count of criminal simulation and one count of deceptive advertising.

“Gas prices are high, times are tough and Nebraskans should get what they pay for,” Bruning told reporters on Tuesday.Theft by deception is a class II misdemeanor with a penalty of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Criminal simulation and deceptive advertising are both class III misdemeanors punishable by up to three months in jail and a $500 fine.

Weise and Kaup will appear in a Burt County courtroom in Tekamah at 9 a.m. on Sept. 9 to face the charges. Over the past year, the attorney general’s office has received more than 90 consumer complaints involving 35 gas stations.

“We know there are more stations taking advantage of unsuspecting customers,” said Bruning. “We intend to prosecute those who deceive the public. If they think they’re going to get away with it, they’re wrong.”

The attorney general’s office currently has 15 active investigations underway, including a North Platte gas station.

North Platte has not been immune

Almost a year ago to the day before Bruning announced the Burt County prosecution, the Attorney General made a surprise inspection of two North Platte gas stations along the I-80 interchange.

The Shell and Conoco stations, owned locally, had been at the source of several consumer complaints stating that the stations were misleading the public with confusing advertising methods relating to what pumps and at what price they were selling ethanol-based fuel.

Bruning agreed after seeing it himself and furiously threatened prosecution. Over the course of a few weeks, the two stations modified their advertising methods under orders from Bruning and agreed to heavy fines, which were paid to local charities per a settlement agreement.

In February, the Shell Timesaver gas station, located at 3220 North Jeffers, was shut down by Weights and Measures for having too much ethanol in their advertised 10-percent ethanol pumps. It was discovered that there was as much as 6 to 8 percent more ethanol than was allowed by federal and state standards to be in the 10-percent regulated pumps.

The excess ethanol afforded excess profitability by selling cheaper fuel at a higher price and risked damaging vehicles that are only supposed to be able to handle no more than 10-percent ethanol under federal guidelines. Weights and Measures forced the station to pump out their tanks and bring back the proper fuel.

The station opened later that day, but the information was passed along to the attorney general’s office for investigation. That investigation was ongoing at the time The Telegraph broke the statewide investigation story regarding the large scale cheating.

Leah Bucco-White, communications director for the attorney general’s office said the North Platte investigation is still ongoing, but more information will be available in the coming months, as to the status of the investigation.

http://www.nptelegraph.com/articles/2008/08/23/news/60000747.txt

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