In Sandy’s Aftermath, New Yorkers Face Scams, Price Gouging

November 13, 2012 Denise Romano
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As New Yorkers pick up the pieces after Hurricane Sandy, they continue to face different types of obstacles, such as gas shortages and price gouging.

After a week of drivers waiting in long lines, plus violent incidents, Mayor Michael Bloomberg finally instated gasoline rationing beginning 6 a.m. on Friday, November 9.  The emergency order puts in effect an odd/even license plate system for gasoline and diesel purchases.

Cars with license plates ending in an odd number or a letter will be able to purchase gas on odd numbered days; vehicles with plates ending in an even number can purchase on even numbered days.

Commercial vehicles, emergency vehicles, buses and paratransit vehicles, Medical Doctor (MD) plates and vehicles licensed by the Taxi and Limousine Commission are exempt from the rationing system. People with handheld canisters for gasoline can go on line on any day.

“Last week’s storm hit the fuel network hard – and knocked out critical infrastructure needed to distribute gasoline,” said Bloomberg. “Even as the region’s petroleum infrastructure slowly returns to normal, the gasoline supply remains a real problem for thousands of New York drivers.” The rationing system, he added, is, “the best way to cut down the lines and help customers buy gas faster.”

Closer to home, local leaders are demanding answers.

Commanding Officer of the 62nd Precinct, Deputy Inspector James Rooney said that his officers have been working 12-hour shifts, with no days off, since Sandy hit. Most of the manpower is going to help the harder-hit 60th and 61st Precincts, but some is attending to the gas situation.

“The neighborhood has about 25 gas stations. On a rotating basis, only two to three are open at a time,” Rooney said at Community Board 11’s monthly meeting on November 8. “There have been several arrests of siphoning gas and fights in gas lines.”

Community Board 11 Chair Bill Guarinello said that the neighborhood “needs answers.

“We have to start pressing the Office of Emergency Management and the mayor. We need better answers and time tables,” he stated. “We are educated people and don’t need it sugar coated. The general public has to get better information. All we are asking for is honesty.”

Assemblymember Peter Abbate agreed. “No elected official wants to say, ‘I don’t know,’” he contended. “There is a little less gas coming to our area, but the problem is the public. They are on those lines, day in and day out with three-quarters of a tank of gas, waiting. They are taking five to 10 gallons [of gas] and [storing it in] basements. Yes, there’s a shortage, but we’re compounding it.”

Councilmember David Greenfield said he wanted to “kick the heck out of the mayor and governor” over the gas crisis. “This is something that should have happened a week ago,” he said of the odd/even license plate system. “The least you can ask from your government leaders is that they not lie to you.”

To add insult to injury, there are incidents of price gouging going on all over the city.

District Attorney Charles Hynes said he would instate a special Rackets Grand Jury to investigate claims that certain businesses used Sandy as an opportunity to raise prices illegally; the panel will also look into alleged scams, such as fake charities.

“The sad truth about a tragedy is that while it brings out the very best in people, it can also bring out the worst,” said Hynes. “To raise the price of a hotel, as people seek emergency shelter is just unconscionable.”

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is also investigating reports of price gauging. General Business Law prohibits increased in costs of essential items like food, water, gas, generators, batteries, flashlights and services such as transportation during natural disasters or other events that disrupt the economy.

“Our office is taking every complaint seriously. Staff from regional offices across the state are triaging and acting on consumer complaints as they come in,” Schneiderman said. “We have contacted the targets as part of a preliminary inquiry and vendors are now on notice. While most retailers understand that customers are also neighbors, and would never think of taking advantage of New Yorkers during such disruptive times, emergency circumstances always require an extra sense of vigilance.”

Anyone with information concerning storm-related price spikes should call the District Attorney’s Action Center at 718-250-2340 or Schneiderman’s office at 800-771-7755.

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