Families paying off debt as Attorney General’s investigation of propane price gouging set to wrap up

HASTINGS, Mich. – The Michigan Attorney General’s office said they would like to resolve their ongoing investigations into AmeriGas and Ferrellgas in the next few weeks for probable cause of price gouging, false advertisement, and not honoring consumers’ locked in pricing for propane services.

Connie Raterink of Hastings are among the 44 complaints against AmeriGas and are now quoted in the Attorney General’s subpoena against the company.

Raterink told FOX 17 that her family depends on propane to get through the winter, especially having Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lupus, she said staying warm is her number one priority. But after the 2014 winter, Raterink said she’s leaving AmeriGas because the company hiked their price while she said she begged the company to fill their tank.

“I don’t ever want to experience that again,” said Raterink. “It was so stressful. Stress is another thing that will make me flare up with my health issues. So it was terrible.”

Raterink said she pays about $2,500 per month for medications during the summer until she meets her insurance deductible. Then in the winter, she and her husband budget for propane; but after last winter she said there is no way they could have saved for those prices.

“We’ve been paying $563 a month since Christmas,” said Raterink. “That’s hard to budget for. That’s ridiculous.”

Raterink said she paid her AmeriGas bills on time for the past 11 years, but paid rates she calls “ridiculous” last winter.

On top of that, Raterink told FOX 17 she had to “beg” AmeriGas for service, and called them several times each week, while her propane tank got down to one-percent.

“The last day when I finally got gas, I still wasn’t on the schedule for delivery that day,” said Raterink. “I told them, ‘I have severe health problems, and you’re going to let me run out of propane when I have been a great customer, paid my bills for 11 years? This is ridiculous.’”

Raterink’s invoices show that AmeriGas filled up their propane tank for $2.79 per gallon October 2013. Then in February 2014, AmeriGas billed Raterink at least $4.09 per gallon.

Raterink wrote to the AG’s office and is now quoted throughout their subpoena, among the 44 consumer complaints against AmeriGas.

According to the subpoena the AG issued to AmeriGas and Ferrellgas, the AG states there is probable cause that both AmeriGas and Ferellgas violated the Consumer Protection Act in three ways: price gouging; false advertising; and, not honoring consumers’ locked in prices.

As for Raterink, she told FOX 17 that as soon as her tank is empty, her family is leaving AmeriGas for a local co-op that priced propane at $1.89 during the 2014 winter.

“I feel slapped,” said Raterink. “There are people who have changed their gas companies like they change their underwear: if they don’t like them, they get rid of them. We have stayed with them for 11 years, and for somebody else to be able to come in at one dollar a gallon almost cheaper, to me it’s just a slap.”

In response to the ongoing AG investigation, AmeriGas responded with the following statement:

“AmeriGas is, and has always been, strongly committed to providing our customers with good value, and to doing so with high-quality, safe, and reliable service. In that regard, we have been working closely with the Attorney General’s office since its investigation began.

We strongly deny that our pricing this past winter was improper and, therefore, we appreciate the opportunity to respond to any allegations of that nature that have been raised by the Attorney General. As well documented in the media, this winter was unprecedented due to high commodity propane prices and limited supply.

AmeriGas does not produce propane, but purchases it from various suppliers. Therefore, when wholesale propane prices increase, we must pass on those higher prices to our customers.

Additionally, despite the many challenges we faced this winter, we took numerous extraordinary measures, often at great expense, to ensure we could continue to deliver propane to our customers.

Finally, with regard to inquiries about individual customers, for privacy and other reasons we obviously cannot comment on any specific customer or account. However, in accordance with our continuing commitment to our customers, and as previously stated to the media, if mistakes were made by AmeriGas with regard to any particular account or accounts we will correct them.”

Spokeswoman Joy Yearlong for Attorney General Bill Schuette issued the following statement:

“Our investigations into Amerigas and Ferrellgas remain ongoing, but Attorney General Schuette would like to see them both resolved in the next few weeks, and we will provide additional comments then.”

If you feel like you have been scammed or that a propane company is violating the Consumer Protection Act, call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at (877) 765-8388, or file an online complaint at http://www.michigan.gov/ag

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