Milgram took gas station violations out of context, group says

John O'Brien Dec. 4, 2008, 5:47pm


SPRINGFIELD, N.J. (Legal Newsline) - New Jersey Anne Milgram was grandstanding when she alleged misconduct on the part of hundreds of gasoline retailers, a group dedicated to protecting those businesses claims.

The New Jersey Gasoline, Convenience and Automotive Association said Wednesday that Milgram misrepresented the amount of gas stations that were actually scamming consumers when she released the names of nearly 350 businesses in June.

Milgram recently said allegations against 10 gas stations proved untrue.

"Last summer, Attorney General Anne Milgram distributed a press release disclosing the names of 350 gasoline retailers her office claimed were 'scamming' motorists, while she hosted a press conference accusing these small businesses of 'cheating' the public," NJGCA Executive Director Sal Risalvato said.

"NJGCA investigated these accusations, discovered that the report presented was entirely misleading, and countered her press conference to dispute these findings."

Risalvato said most gas stations had only minor infractions that should not be classified as "scamming." Risalvato also said the infractions need to be addressed, but not scrutinized that heavily.

He says the then-high price of gas was probably part of Milgram's motivation.

"The public was justifiably upset with the cost of gas and demanded action," he said. "Attorney General Milgram pandered to the public under the false pretense that her efforts would somehow combat the high prices at the pump.

"The public wanted someone to blame and demanded someone's head on a platter. The Attorney General wrongly offered up the heads of innocent gasoline retailers."

After Milgram's press conference, NJGCA filed an Open Public Records Request Act to gain access to the information. After the request was denied, NJGCA filed suit. The suit is now settled, and NJGCA's request has been fulfilled.

Risalvato says that less than 15 retailers could be identified as violating public trust. The rest were charged with minor infractions.

"(Milgram) found a few genuine violations, added a large group of minor infractions to the list, packaged it all together and hastily called a press conference," Risalvato said.

"She then reprehensively labeled everyone on the list as having attempted to 'scam' and 'cheat' the motoring public. All evidence proves that this overly sensationalized report was presented solely to demonstrate that government was 'doing something' to protect motorists from high gas prices.

"It was feel-good political theater of the worst kind."

Many of those retailers have told NJGCA that they have lost business since Milgram's allegations.

"The consequences of the Attorney General's report are far more devastating than any statistic can illustrate," Risalvato said.

"It takes years to earn a good reputation in any business. Yet, thanks to the irresponsible manner in which these findings were packaged and presented, the reputations of honest retailers have been tarnished and destroyed in moments."

Milgram's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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