Hood sues two Miss. oil companies

Published 4:05 pm Friday, June 8, 2007

Two Mississippi oil companies were sued Thursday for allegedly gouging consumers in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Attorney General Jim Hood said he sued Wilburn Oil of Tupelo in Lee County Chancery Court and Fair Oil of Louisville in Winston County Chancery Court.

Hood said each company was charged with multiple violations of the consumer protection and price gouging laws. He said the companies face penalties of up to $10,000 per sale.

After the storm, Hood has 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 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.

Hood said Thursday that only Wilburn Oil, owned by former state Rep. Jerry Wilburn of Mantachie, and Fair Oil refused to cooperate “even though they were caught red-handed increasing their profits by over 25 percent during a time when people were fleeing from a hurricane.”

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.

Attorney H.L. “Sonny” Merideth of Greenville, who served in the state House with Wilburn and who represents Wilburn Oil, said Wilburn followed the law and had been cooperating and providing the attorney general with documents.