Business group wrong, N.J. AG's office says

John O'Brien Dec. 5, 2008, 12:49pm


TRENTON, N.J. (Legal Newsline) - New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram's office responded Friday to accusations that Milgram grandstanded last June at the expense of several gas stations' reputations.

Assistant Attorney General David Szuchman said Friday the New Jersey Gasoline, Convenience and Automotive Association is wrong in its assertion that Milgram grouped minor violators in with more serious ones in an effort to win favor with New Jersey residents.

"I do not consider signs that do not match the price set on the pump, lower-octane gas being sold as premium and pumps dispensing inaccurate amount of gasoline to be minor violations, nor I believe, do motorists," Szuchman said.

The NJGCA is an organization dedicated to protecting the interests of businesses like gas stations and convenience stores.

"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."

Milgram recently issued a press release concerning alleged violations at 10 gas stations that proved untrue.

"On Nov. 21, the Division of Consumer Affairs issued and posted a press release in which it publicly announced the names and locations of gas stations that should not have been cited for violations," Szuchman said.

"The Division found, upon further review, that these violations were erroneous and we proactively acknowledged this. There were 10 instances out of more than 350 violations which were in error; more than 1,000 gas stations were surveyed last spring."

Szuchman said he is waiting on the NJGCA to prove its accusations. Risalvato said many gas stations mentioned in Milgram's press conference have reported a loss of business.

"I have spoken to Sal Risavalto of the New Jersey Gasoline C-Store and Automotive Association several times over the past month and asked him to provide specific information," he said.

"But he did not, and still has not, provided me with specific information about additional stations that he believes allegedly did not have violations."

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