Last week a Harrison County jury handed down a $30M verdict against Petroleum Wholesale LP over allegations that the company manipulated fuel pumps to dispense less gasoline than consumers were actually paying for at 86 SunMart service stations.
The suit spawned from an Operation Spotlight launched by Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples after he discovered that Petroleum Wholesale routinely failed Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) inspections.
The Operation Spotlight involved dozens of TDA inspectors conducting inspections and testing on 1,701 gas pumps at 86 SunMart locations. Upon inspection it was determined that 985 of the pumps were dispensing less than a full gallon.
The state claims that while the Operation Spotlight was ongoing Wholesale Petroleum attempted to cover up their improper actions by dispatching company personnel as well as third part contractors to recalibrate pumps before TDA inspectors were able to perform tests.
During the eight-week trial, a team of four assistant attorneys general provided jurors 48 boxes of fuel receipts that covered 5.76 million gallons of gasoline and 727,339 fraudulent sales transactions. The jury’s $30 million verdict was based on consumer transactions and penalties per violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
The decision “sends a clear signal that Texans will not tolerate deceptive sales practices,” said Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples.
According to an article from the Montgomery County newspaper, The Courier, the jury found Petroleum Wholesale liable 18.765 million in restitution, plus an additional $8.49 million in civil penalties and $2.7 million in fee to the state.
Officials for Petroleum Wholesale have continued to deny the allegations and plan to appeal the decision.