Panhandle Gas Distributors Under Investigation

It was business as usual at a number of Fill-Ups Gas and Convenience stores across Bay County Thursday, but that might not have been the case at the Crestview offices of their parent company, Tate Oil.

State attorney general Charlie Crist filed a lawsuit against Tate Oil and the Fill-Ups chain, accusing the owner of price fixing at the Fill-Ups locations.

The suit also claims Fill-Ups owners Ryan Phillips and John Osburn, and Robert Tate of Tate Oil, used threats and intimidation to force rival stations owners to match their higher prices.

Crist first began investigating Fill-Ups and Tate Oil last July after Hurricane Dennis.

Charlie Crist, Florida Attorney General, says, "This is a multi-million dollar conspiracy to defraud the people of the state of Florida, to jack up the price of gasoline in an unconscionable fashion that we would not have found out about without a complain to our price gouging hotline that occurred after Hurricane Dennis last year."

Crist says his office has uncovered information that reveals Phillips allegedly used threats and intimidation against his employees and competitors to gain their cooperation and their silence.

Crist says, "People would be called on the phone and say if you don't match our price, if you don't jack up the price of your gas 15 cents more then it was before, then you could fear for your life. I mean, unconscionable, unscrupulous, immoral, unbelievable things."

We stopped at the Tate Oil terminal on Transmitter Road. They refused to answer our questions.

Our calls to the Tate and Fill-Ups offices in Crestview were not returned. If convicted the companies and their owners could face civil fines that could run into millions of dollars.

Crist is also asking prosecutors in the panhandle to consider criminal charges.