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RADFORD, Va. -- The owner of three Bucko's Pantry convenience stores accused of gasoline price gouging will pay refunds to affected consumers in a $4,000 settlement, according to Virginia Attorney General Bill Mims.
Gas prices at the Bucko's Pantry locations, two in Radford and one in Dublin, reached more than $5 last fall, according to a report by The Roanoke Times.
Approximately $400 of the settlement will go toward refunds. Another $800 will be given to the American Red Cross and the rest will cover state investigative and other expenses.
According to state law, gouging is charging an unconscionable price for goods or services during a time of declared emergency, the report noted.
Prosecutors said one Bucko's location had a four-day price hike from $3.599 to $5.799 in the days before Hurricane Ike hit Galveston, Texas, in September 2008. The company denied wrongdoing, arguing it temporarily raised prices to slow sales and preserve its fuel supply in response to skyrocketing demand as Ike neared the Gulf Coast.
According to court papers, the company said it was unsure when it would be able to purchase more fuel or the price of that fuel, with possible disruptions in fuel production and deliveries on the horizon.
"I certainly didn't intentionally try to price-gouge anybody," company owner and president, William Stone, said in an interview with the newspaper.
Stone lowered his prices almost to where they were before the hike after learning a feared gasoline shortage was not likely, he noted. The c-store operator estimated he sold between 60 and 80 gallons of fuel at the higher prices which were posted for four hours.
Stone said in court papers he was unaware of Virginia's price-gouging ban under which the state brought civil charges.
Bruce Arkema, the company's attorney, told the newspaper it would have cost Stone $15,000 to $30,000 to fight the allegations in court.
The case, filed in response to at least one consumer complaint, was the first legal settlement in the state brought as a result of the Ike-related gasoline run-up.
Prosecutors would not say whether they are still negotiating with other gasoline retailers suspected of price gouging, the newspaper reported.
"This settlement will send a strong message that Virginia intends to enforce our Anti-Price Gouging Act," Mims said in a statement.
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