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Propane supplier agrees to repay customers

October 24, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

A Boonsboro propane gas supplier has agreed to reimburse customers tens of thousands of dollars for charging hazardous materials fees that were not part of customer service agreements, the Maryland Attorney General's office announced Wednesday.

The attorney general's Consumer Protection Division alleged Thompson Gas of 6708 Old National Pike violated the Maryland Consumer Protection Act by having consumers enter into three-year service agreements then charging an additional $2.97 monthly hazardous materials fee that had not been disclosed in the contract.

"Thompson Gas vehemently denies that it has violated any laws," company President J. Randall Thompson said in a written response.

Thompson said the company, which has been arguing the case with the attorney general's office for three years, decided to settle rather than incurring large legal expenses.

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"By settling, our customers will get the money rather than attorneys," Thompson said.

He said the company's legal advisers agreed the company did not violate any laws.

The amount customers will receive has not been calculated yet, he said. Thompson Gas and the attorney general's office will send letters to customers within six weeks with more information, Thompson said.

Thompson Gas provides propane gas to about 5,000 residential customers in Western Maryland.

The Consumer Protection Division also alleged Thompson's Gas misrepresented the purpose of its hazardous materials fee when it told consumers it was imposing the fee to recover its costs because of new government regulations, the attorney general's office said.

Thompson Gas has agreed to stop charging the hazardous materials fee unless the consumer agrees to pay it, to not charge fees that exceed the cost of handling the materials and to not charge any fees unless they are first disclosed in consumers' contracts, according to the attorney general's office.

Thompson Gas also will pay the Consumer Protection Division $25,000 for costs associated with the case.

"Consumers can't be required to pay charges that aren't disclosed to them," Attorney General J. Joseph Curran said in a written statement.

Thompson said the company was not required to stop charging the fee as part of the settlement, "which further makes our case that our position is correct."

He said the company chose to return a portion of the fee to customers rather than litigate the matter.

Thompson Gas employs 70 people, according to the Washington County 2002 Business & Industry Directory.

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