The Manasquan Lukoil is one of six gas stations in New Jersey accused of selling aviation fuel in place of unleaded gas, Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs (DCA) announced on Tuesday, May 28.
The six gas stations named in a lawsuit filed by Chiesa and the DCA allegedly substituted 65,000 gallons of 100 octane aviation gasoline, or avgas, from a fuel distributor, between Dec. 6 and 7, 2012. According to the DCA, the aviation fuel was advertised as unleaded regular, plus, or premium motor fuel, and sold to unsuspecting customers between Dec. 6 and 8, 2012.
That deceit is a violation of New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act, Motor Fuels Act, Weights and Measures Act, Motor Fuels Regulations, and Advertising Regulations, as well as the Federal Clean Air Act.
Avgas is used to power piston-engined aircraft, and contains a toxic lead known as tetraethyl lead. This lead can damage the catalytic converters and oxygen sensors of a car.
“We allege that these gas stations clearly knew, or should have known, they were selling aviation fuel that contains toxic lead, while advertising it as unleaded gasoline for motorists,” Chiesa said. “We will pursue restitution for any consumer, if it is demonstrated that this aviation fuel damaged their vehicles. Just as importantly, we are holding these gas stations and the distributors responsible for their alleged, unlawful deception and potential harm to the public.”
The following gas stations, located in Mercer, Monmouth, Somerset and Union counties, were named in the lawsuit: Pasmel Property, Inc., of Freehold, and six Pasmel-owned gas stations: Daninka, in North Plainfield; Express Fuel, in Trenton; Keyport Delta; Manasquan Lukoil; Lawrenceville Lukoil; and Scotch Plains Lukoil.
Zephyr Oil, a fuel distributor based out of Brooklyn, and Lee Transport, a fuel transporter based out of Pittsgrove, were also named in the lawsuit. They are accused of violating the Consumer Fraud Act by selling and/or distributing leaded aviation fuel that they knew, or should have known, would be advertised and sold to consumers as unleaded motor fuel.
Zephyr Oil is accused of purchasing about 73,000 gallons of avgas on Dec. 4, 2012, from a California-based company not named in the lawsuit. Zephyr Oil then sold that fuel to Pasmel at a significantly discounted price. Lee Transport was contracted to deliver the fuel from a terminal in Bayonne, where it was being stored, to the gas stations.
The state alleges that all three entities knew or should have known the fuel being transported was avgas, as the bills were clearly labelled “AVGAS – Aviation," and the loading forms signed by Lee Transport labelled the fuel "AVGAS." The weight tickets from the Bayonne terminal also labelled the fuel "AVGAS."
An employee at the terminal learned from a Lee Transport driver on the afternoon of Dec. 7 that the aviation fuel was being transported to gas stations, according to the DCA. At that point, the terminal stopped deliveries of the fuel, leaving 8,000 gallons of the fuel undelivered to gas stations.
On Tuesday afternoon, Pasmel Attorney Glen Vida denies the company had knowledge that the fuel being delivered was aviation fuel. On Dec. 20, 2012, Pasmel filed a lawsuit against Zephyr Oil.
"The invoice said 'premium gasoline,'" Vida said.
Vida claims that as soon as Pasmel knew what it was distributing, it closed down the stations, emptied the tanks, disposed of the aviation fuel and cleansed everything. Stations were shut down for several weeks, and in some cases, a month.
"Pasmel lost an awful lot of money," Vida said. "It approaches six figures."
Zephyr has responded to the suit, claiming Pasmel knew it was receiving aviation fuel. Vida will be looking to consolidate that suit with the one filed by the state on Tuesday.
“Any consumers who believe they purchased fuel from these six gas stations between December 6 and December 8 is urged to call the Division of Consumer Affairs at 800-242-5846, especially if you believe your vehicle may have been damaged as a result,” DCA Director Eric T. Kanefsky said.
Violations of the Consumer Fraud Act may result in civil penalties of up to $10,000 for a first violation and up to $20,000 for subsequent violations. Violations of the Motor Fuels Act may result in civil penalties of up to $1,500 for a first violation and up to $3,000 for subsequent violations.
A first violation of the Motor Fuels Act may result in a suspension of up to 30 days of the retail dealer’s license to sell motor fuels, and a subsequent offense can lead to a revocation of the license.
Violations of the Weights and Measures Act may result in civil penalties of up to $1,000 for the first violation, and up to $5,000 for subsequent violations.
Enforcement Supervisor John McGuire, of the New Jersey Office of Weights and Measures within the Division of Consumer Affairs, conducted the investigation. Deputy Attorneys General Glenn T. Graham and Jeffrey Koziar, of the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section within the Division of Law, are representing the State in the action.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.