Hood says he intends to sue two Miss. oil companies

Published 3:59 pm Friday, May 25, 2007

Attorney General Jim Hood says he intends to take two Mississippi oil companies to court for their refusal to cooperate in his office’s efforts to recover money allegedly gouged from consumers after Hurricane Katrina.

Hood said Thursday at a news conference in Jackson that five Mississippi oil companies have agreed to settle instead of going to court.

He said Jerry Wilburn Oil of Tupelo, owned by former state Rep. Jerry Wilburn of Mantachie, and Fair Oil of Louisville have not cooperated.

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“We intend to make an example of these companies,” he said.

Attorney H.L. “Sonny” Merideth of Greenville, who served in the state House with Wilburn and who represents Wilburn Oil, said Wilburn raised prices because of “extenuating circumstances.”

“We have been cooperating and providing them documents,” Merideth said. “They have not notified us they were going to court.”

Mississippi law prevents prices from being increased during a state of emergency. The law, though, does allow retailers or oil distributors to pass along price increases they incur.

Merideth said that was all Wilburn did during the state of emergency declared after Katrina hit in late August 2005.

After the storm, Hood said, his office was inundated with complaints alleging oil distributors of price gouging. He said many companies did raise prices, but that some did so to cover their increased costs.

While admitting no wrongdoing, five companies have agreed to cooperate and pay a total of $293,255 to the state, including the cost of the alleged price gouging and penalties, Hood said.

The companies are Sumrall Oil in Bay Springs; Prince Oil, Philadelphia; Spaceway, Union; Southern Oil, Hattiesburg; and Moak Petroleum, Vicksburg.

Most of the settlement money, Hood said , would go into the state general fund.