MESQUITE (CBSDFW) - With a reputation for a good tacos and cheap gas, Fuel City's appearance on a list of gas stations suspected of price-gouging came as a surprise, both to customers and to the company itself.
"We didn't do that," said its president Joseph Bickham. The Texas Attorney General released a list of 127 gas stations, reported to have sold gas for $3.99 or higher during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. More than three quarters of them are in North Texas.
Bickham says he's never seen anything like the gas panic that swept over the area two months ago.
"There were areas around the Metroplex that were either out of fuel or selling it for exorbitant prices," he recalls.
Fuel City, he claims, was actually losing money on every gallon of gas it sold.
He says, the price of unleaded gas at its Mesquite location, the one singled out by the Attorney Gene peaked at $2.89, less than what the company was paying for that very same gas.
"At times our cost was actually closer to three dollars or a little over three dollars, and we never raised prices that high," he said, explaining they managed to balance out the loss with profits from purchases made inside their stores.
The AG's office says, it received about 5,500 complaints of price gouging, with many Texans e-mailing photos and receipts as evidence. Notices sent out to the 127 business were intended to provide "alleged offenders an opportunity to resolve these issues with or office or face legal action for violating state law."
Bickham suspects he knows what caused the confusion.
Electronic signs at most gas stations are unable to indicate when they're out of gas and can't be programmed to display a string of zeros.
"We ran out two or three times at our Mesquite location," he said. Like many stations in the area, it briefly displayed a series of 9's across its board in an effort to show it had no gas. Then, a customer called in, asking if it was selling gas for $9.99.
"'Well, you have 9-9-9 on your price line', and we said, 'That's to indicate we don't have fuel'," said Bickham, "so we went to the electrical room and just pulled the breaker to the sign."
Two miles away, the owner of the BZ Star gas station also told us he's not sure why he's on the list. He said his prices peaked at $2.99. Both gas stations are required to document their sales and their owners told us they can easily prove they never topped three dollars. They simply wanted to set the record straight with customers.
"We don't want people to think we were taking advantage of them," said Bickham.
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