LANSING- Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette today announced the filing of criminal charges against five Madison Heights gas station owner/operators for their alleged roles in a gasoline price-fixing operation. The stations were all located within two miles of each other in Madison Heights. An investigation by Schuette's office revealed the details of the price-fixing scheme, which involved the five stations setting their gasoline prices at an artificial level, within a penny or two of each other. The scheme, which violated Michigan antitrust law, was an attempt to increase profits from gasoline sales by eliminating competition in the Madison Heights area. All five station owners now face charges for violations of Michigan's Antitrust Reform Act (MARA).
"Price-fixing undermines the free market and sticks consumers with the bill," said Schuette. "It's illegal in any industry, but is particularly egregious as Michigan drivers struggle with rising gas prices."
Schuette's office began the investigation after a tip from another Madison Heights gas station owner who was pressured to participate in the price-fixing operation. The station owner worked with Attorney General investigators to gather evidence from the five Madison Heights station owner/operators allegedly involved in the price fixing scheme. Information obtained during the investigation showed the stations all set their prices within a penny or two of each other on at least five days: February 8, 2011, February 11, 2011, February 23, 2011, February 27, 2011, and March 3, 2011.
Schuette noted the Michigan Antitrust Reform Act (MARA) prohibits price-fixing agreements because they undermine competitive market forces, causing artificially higher prices for consumers. All five station owner/operators have been charged with violations of MARA, and because Michigan law permits the charging of companies, each of the gas stations involved has been charged separately.
The following stations and owner/operators have each been charged with five counts of violating Michigan's Antitrust Act. Each count is punishable by up to two years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine for individuals, and up to a $1 million fine for the companies.
The following individual owner/operator has been charged with one count of violating Michigan's Antitrust Act:
Arrangements are being made for the defendants to turn themselves in to authorities, and they are expected to be arraigned today at 11:00A.M. in 43rd District Court in Madison Heights.
Schuette noted that evidence of an actual agreement among retailers is needed to prove a price fixing violation, rather than just the fact that prices match in a particular area. If a consumer has evidence of an actual agreement to fix prices, they are encouraged to contact Attorney General Bill Schuette's Consumer Protection Division at 1-877-765-8388 or file a complaint online at www.michigan.gov/ag.
A criminal charge is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.