Police dispute station's drive-off count: Number is up but not what marquee lists

The Shawano Leader, Wisconsin/March 2, 2011

By Tim Ryan

Shawano police Friday released the numbers of gas drive-off complaints reported in the city over the past three years to counter claims being publicly displayed at the People's Express East gas station.

The scrolling marquee sign at the gas station at 1206 East Green Bay Street claims Shawano Mayor Lorna Marquardt has been promoting gas drive-offs at each of the three stations in the city owned by Midwest Oil of Shawano, LLC, a subsidiary of the R.C. Samanta Roy Institute of Science and Technology.

The marquee also displays an alleged running total of customers who have gotten gas and left without paying. The marquee claimed 1,079 as of late Friday afternoon and two to three a day at each gas station.

"It's absolutely ridiculous the numbers that they're putting up on the sign," Police Chief Ed Whealon said. "It's absolutely, blatantly false and they know it."

Whealon said the Police Department wants to let the people in the community know what the real numbers are.

"There's nothing to hide here," he said.

Figures provided by the department show there had been 11 gas drive-offs reported by Midwest's three gas stations since the beginning of the year through Friday.

People's Express East reported five incidents. People's Express North, 1381 East Green Bay Street, reported four. People's Express South, 716 South Main Street, reported two.

The numbers are already higher than the total drive-offs for all three gas stations last year, but nowhere near the figures being displayed.

"If they are occurring, they're not reporting them to us," Whealon said.

Other gas stations have also reported drive-offs that are likely to exceed last year's numbers if the pace continues. Auto Prep and Kwik Trip each reported one so far this year compared to three for all of 2010.

The Store and Tom's One-Stop have already matched last year's totals, each reporting two so far this year, the same as reported for all of 2010.

Whealon said the department responds to all gas drive-off complaints, including those reported by the People's Express stations.

"We absolutely investigate them," he said.

Most gas drive-offs end up becoming civil matters, which can happen whenever a gas station makes any kind of agreement with a customer, such as agreeing to hold onto a driver's license until the driver returns to pay.

Whealon said some investigations are also hampered by a lack of information, such as a license plate and make of car.

Of the 11 complaints reported by the People's Express gas stations this year, six are listed as not having enough information.

Whealon said the most recent incident was reported February 23, with a call reporting a gas drive-off that occurred February 17 and included no vehicle description or license number.

The scrolling marquee sign claims Marquardt is promoting the drive-offs because she hates the stations' low prices.

Marquardt declined to comment, saying the figures from the police department speak for themselves.

A person who answered the phone at People's Express also declined to comment and hung up.

SIST has previously claimed in court filings that Marquardt is the leader of a conspiracy aimed at driving SIST out of Shawano. Marquardt filed a libel and defamation suit three years ago that is still pending in circuit court.

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