Deadly deadlines - Gas station operators take chances to move cash

Published: Sunday | January 13, 2013 Comments 0
Fuel is unloaded at a gas station. - File
Fuel is unloaded at a gas station. - File

Sheldon Williams, Gleaner Writer

With two gas station operators shot by thieves between October 2012 and last Saturday, president of the Jamaica Gasolene Retailers Association (JGRA) Derrick Thompson has explained why many operators have become targets for criminals.

Thompson said he believes gas station dealers are endangering themselves to meet deadlines and keep their businesses going because of growing competition and harsh economic times. "Because of the tough economic climate, competition is rife and change of policy from marketing competitions leads to delays in getting gas," he said. This may motivate dealers to attempt to move large sums of cash themselves to stay ahead of competitors.

He explained that marketing companies are changing credit terms on the dealers, reducing the time they are allowed to purchase and receive gasolene. The marketing companies purchase the petrol from Petrojam and, in turn, sell the petrol to service stations.

"What happens is that they give you like a one-day credit or a two-day credit and what is happening now with the tough economic times, they are reducing their credit terms. In other words, they are changing their terms on the dealers," Thompson explained. "The petrol business is huge amount of money. Millions of dollars you pay per week for a load of petrol. A load of petrol will run you about $4 million. If it is that you have to pay $4 million in two days and the credit term is reduced to one day then all of a sudden, you are caught behind the eight ball," he said.

"What happens is that we have like courier services that pick these monies up and will take it to their places of businesses, count it and lodge it. That delays the process of getting the money in your account. And if the credit terms are reduced, then you won't meet that period and, sometimes when you don't meet that period, you won't get any gas. In order to prevent that, a lot of dealers are stepping outside the structured process of the security company picking up their lodgments and are running to the banks with it to get it into their accounts on time. In doing that, they are endangering themselves," Thompson deduced.

Thompson admitted that while attacks on gas station dealers are nothing new, there is now renewed concern for their safety following recent attacks. "In two-and-a-half months two of our members have been shot, one fatally and one miraculously survived. I think it's the first time we have seen the brutality in such short order," Thompson explained.

Melvin Chung was gunned down at a Total gas station he operated in downtown Kingston on Saturday, January 5. In the first incident, Thompson said, a dealer was ambushed and shot multiple times last October in Three Miles, St. Andrew. He was on his way to the bank to make a large cash deposit.

MEETING WITH POLICE

A meeting has been agreed upon between members of JGRA and Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington later this week to discuss safety concerns of gas station operators. Thompson told Automotives that the top cop agreed to meet with the group on Wednesday or Thursday of this week to entertain security talks and discuss possible solutions.

Thompson, while confident that the meeting will take place, said the dates are tentative at the moment. "Right now I'm not sure which one of them, because a lot of things are happening and I'm not sure we will be available for those dates so I'm just trying to get a sense from our executive to see if they'll be able to meet with the Commissioner. But, as at now, we have the meeting lined up," he said.

Thompson explained that there is no general protocol for providing security for gas stations and their operators and admitted that each dealer is responsible for putting independent security measures in place. However, he said that years ago there had been discussion with the police for providing extra security for dealers when Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin was Commissioner, but with his departure there was no further progress.

When quizzed which areas are high-risk locations for gas station dealers to operate in, Thompson indicated that, among others, they are downtown Kingston, Spanish Town, Hagley Park Road and Heroes Circle. "Anywhere these criminals perceive there is money, they are going to go after it," Thompson said.

Thompson said that there are 300 gas stations islandwide and everyone involved in the business is saddened and heartbroken at Chung's demise under such violent circumstances. He described Chung as "no ordinary dealer" and lauded his commitment to service, explaining "he stuck to his ideals that he believed in".

According to police reports, one man is in custody while a top-level police hunt continues for another person believed to be involved in the robbery and murder of Chung. Chung, who operated several Total service stations across the Corporate Area, was shot and killed while being escorted by a security guard.

The gunmen also stole two firearms - a .38 revolver and a 9mm Browning pistol.

The police have not released the identity of the man held in custody in relation to the murder.

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