Texas company ‘intentionally cheating’ drivers
By LPR Staff
A Woodlands-based convenience store chain may have intentionally cheated customers at the gas pumps, according to a statement released by the Texas Department of Agriculture on Tuesday.
Petroleum Wholesale, LP, was at the center of a major investigation launched by Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples on Friday, July 18
. Focusing on the company’s Sunmart convenience store chain, the investigation called “Operation Spotlight” amounted to a three-day blitz review revealing what Staples called a strong indication that the stations deliberately cheated customers.
“At a time when families are struggling to purchase fuel, I am sure all Texans would agree with me that despicable violations such as these are repulsive and must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Staples said on Tuesday. “Given the strong indication this company has intentionally cheated consumers, I have passed along the results of ‘Operation Spotlight’ to Attorney General Abbott and his office has opened an investigation into the matter.”
Operation Spotlight kicked off last week when the Department of Agriculture discovered Sunmart’s pumps yielded a 34-percent rate of noncompliance, well over the state standard of 4 to 6 percent.
According to information provided by the Houston Chronicle, more than 5 percent of the pumps inspected last year, 5,778 in all, dispensed the wrong amount of gasoline or had other problems that rendered them unusable. State standards allow pumps to be off by around six cubic inches per five gallons (or six tablespoons), which can cost customers around 2 cents per gallon. However, Staples’ investigation focused on Sunmart because of what he called “egregious violation patterns.”
Of the 86 Sunmart stations in Texas, including several in Central Texas, 47 were found to be cheating customers on more than half their pumps. Those pumps charged customers for more gas than was actually dispensed. Staples also reported 15 of the 47 stations had every pump set to cheat customers.
All told, Operation spotlight revealed 909 of Sunmart’s 1,704 gas pumps cheated customers. Nearly 1,000 of those pumps were rendered inoperable by the Texas Department of Agriculture.
While most of the offending stations are located in the Houston area, Sunmart stations in Bastrop, Austin and San Antonio were found to be more than 60 percent noncompliant. Details of the investigation as it relates to the Sunmart location in Seguin were not available at press time.
According to Staples, the investigation is ongoing, and inspectors will conduct follow-up checks on each pump that was tagged out of order, to ensure Sunmart is complying with state rules. Presently, the company faces fines up to $100,000, but Staples said that amount could rise higher if follow up investigations show further noncompliance.
“We are far from finished,” Staples said. “We are going to shine the light on all violators who are looking to shortchange Texans. I will not stand for companies taking advantage of good citizens, and I will work hard to protect all our consumers.”
Anyone who suspects a gas pump of dispensing the incorrect amount of gas may report the violation to the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Regulatory Division toll free at (800) 835-5832.