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Wisconsin Fraud Laws

Posted by Tamara

In two similar cases, Wisconsin companies recently reported judgments against two gasoline companies under Wisconsin fraud laws.  Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager announced recently that a Dane County Circuit Court has entered a judgment against Bulk Petroleum Corp., in the Attorney General’s lawsuit against the company for illegally raising the posted prices of gasoline more than once in 24 hours in the days following Hurricane Katrina. In a second case, a judgment against Lang Oil, Inc. was entered into by a Winnebago County Circuit Court.

Wisconsin has no laws against price gouging, although Attorney General Lautenschlager supports such a law.

“The judgments enjoin the companies from violating the law in the future, requires it implement policies and procedures to ensure no future violations occur and imposes forfeitures and penalties for past violations,” Lautenschlager said.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice initiated seven lawsuits against retailers and other distributors of gasoline in May following an investigation initiated by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.   During that time, complaints from Wisconsin consumers concerning high gas prices were reported to the state.  The complaints involved numerous violations statewide, some involving price changes made in less than one hour.

Wisconsin law requires that every wholesaler or other entity selling or distributing motor fuel in the state keep posted, in a conspicuous place, the net selling price per gallon of all grades of motor fuel and the amount of all taxes per gallon.  Under the law, all prices posted shall remain in effect for at least 24 hours.  The law provides up to $200 in forfeitures per violation.

By stipulation of the parties, the court ordered Bulk to pay $3,091.08 — $1,768.08 of which will be allocated to a Milwaukee County first responder’s unit. Under the terms of the judgment, Lang Oil, Inc. will pay the state $1,219, with $496 of the judgment being allocated to an Oshkosh first responder’s unit.

 “While the penalties under this law can be negligible, the purpose of the law is clear – it is a consumer protection provision designed not to punish businesses for making profits, but to ensure that the motor fuel industry does not take advantage of emergencies or other situations by increasing prices in violation of the law,” Lautenschlager said. “Wisconsin consumers are protected when this law is enforced because we demand companies not engage in these practices in the future.” 

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