Lawyers for the state and a former fuel dealer accused of selling pre-paid oil plans and failing to deliver the oil are making one last attempt at a settlement before a judge decides on a penalty.

Nicholas Curro, who started Price Rite Oil, then bought Veilleux Oil & Service and Perron Oil, was found guilty last year in York County Superior Court of violating the state’s Unfair Trade Practices law.

In a civil action brought by the attorney general, he was charged with selling pre-paid heating oil plans in 2007, then failing to deliver all of the oil that customers had paid for and being unable to refund their money.

State law requires that oil dealers who sell pre-paid plans to have supply contracts for some of the oil or post letters of credit or bonds to provide refunds if the oil isn’t delivered.

Lawyers for the state and Curro agreed this week that 313 customers have legitimate claims totaling more than $390,000.

The largest creditor is Catholic Charities Maine, which runs a day-care center in Biddeford and has a claim for $14,000.

Attempts to reach Catholic Charities Maine officials for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.

Carolyn Silsby, an assistant attorney general, said the state wants Curro to make full restitution and be fined $250,000. She said the state will agree to reduce the penalty to $25,000 if Curro repays customers within five years.

Dave Johnson, Curro’s lawyer, said his client may not “have the financial wherewithal to do anything.”

The assets of Curro’s companies in York County were sold last year to repay secured creditors.

“At this point, he doesn’t have much of anything,” Johnson said. “There’s no evidence that this money was going anywhere but into the company, trying to keep the company going.”

Silsby said Justice Arthur Brennan asked both sides to report back by the end of next week on whether they have a settlement.

At least one former customer of Price Rite thinks the issue has taken too long to resolve.

Ken Buechs of Biddeford said Curro made his last delivery of oil to his house in January 2008 and owes him another $1,700 worth of fuel.

He said he hopes the civil case is nearing a resolution.

“Time depletes the energy of people,” Buechs said, noting that some other customers he has spoken with indicate they have essentially written off their losses.

Buechs said the Attorney General’s Office told him he shouldn’t expect to get any of his money back, but he would like to see Curro punished, even if paying restitution and a fine is impossible.

“He took money from people and broke contracts,” Buechs said. “This is white-collar crime.”

Biddeford police conducted a criminal investigation of Curro’s business.

Detective Bob Perkins, who handled the investigation, said he forwarded his results to the York County District Attorney’s Office months ago.

District Attorney Mark Lawrence said he has handed the case to the state because Curro contributed to his congressional campaign in 2008.

Officials in the Attorney General’s Office said no criminal charges have been brought and they can’t comment on the status of their investigation.

 

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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