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DES MOINES, Iowa -- A Davenport Citgo gasoline station owner has agreed to pay a $20,000 fine for misleading his customers into paying high-grade prices for lower-grade fuel, reported the Quad City Times.
Ranbir Thakur admitted to the ruse in a consent agreement approved by a Scott County District Court judge and announced Friday by the Iowa Attorney General's office.
The consumer fraud lawsuit was filed by the Attorney General's office this spring after an investigation by the Weights and Measures Bureau of the Iowa Department of Agriculture. Investigators said they determined that several gasoline tanker truck drivers had been told by Thakur to put 89-octane gas in tanks labeled for 91- and 93-octane gas. One driver said that had occurred on nine out of 10 deliveries to the station and others said it happened on many occasions, according to the lawsuit.
Inspectors from the Agriculture Department drew samples from the three tanks while investigating a complaint from a fuel tanker truck driver and discovered that all of them contained 89-octane gasoline, according to the lawsuit.
The Agriculture Department ordered the mid-grade and super-premium tanks emptied and proper octane gasolines placed in them after the samples were analyzed, a spokesperson for the department said this spring.
Interviewed earlier this year, Thakur said he was innocent and had received no complaints in his six years of running the station.
Patty Judge, the state agriculture secretary, said the settlement "sends a clear message that gas retailers will be penalized sharply if they violate the law."
The agriculture department does random inspections of gasoline stations, leaving a decal on all pumps that meet basic standards.
Machelle Shaffer, a spokeswoman for the department, said the violation was a rare type with no precedent that she could recall. "It's very unusual. … Most gas stations do whatever they can to be in compliance and do a fantastic job," she added.
In addition to the fine, the court order says the station may be inspected more often than usual in the future and that any future violation could mean the station loses its license to operate. The Attorney General's office had sought up to a $40,000 fine, plus additional payments to customers who purchased the mislabeled gas, which is the maximum penalty allowed by state law.