The New Hampshire Attorney General's Office is looking into complaints that Fred Fuller Oil and Propane, one of the state's largest oil delivery companies, has been failing to make timely deliveries of heating oil to customers, according to the head of the AG's Consumer Protection Bureau.
James T. Boffetti, a senior assistant attorney general and the consumer protection head, said customers have complained that Fuller Oil has delayed oil deliveries, allowed tanks that should be automatically filled to go empty and that the company can't be reached by phone because of constant busy tones.
The company's attorney, Simon C. Leeming of the Preti Flaherty law firm, acknowledged the delays, blaming a host of problems that hit the company at the same time this week, including this week's snowstorm, which affected truck deliveries, and a system-wide telephone outage that caused busy tones whenever customers tried to reach any of the company's eight offices throughout the state.
"They have been scrambling for the last week to catch up," he said. "It's really been a perfect storm."
Boffetti said the company has been cooperative and assures him that oil will be delivered to customers who have dealt with temperatures that dipped below zero during overnight hours. He said the company is not the subject of any formal investigation.
"With this weather right now, it's a concern," Boffetti said.
At the company's headquarters in Hudson on Friday, several customers complained that their oil tanks were either empty or nearly empty and said that they were not able to reach anyone by phone.
"I'm frustrated," said Melody Payne of Londonderry. She said a company employee told her she would receive oil that day.
Simone McKeon of Manchester said her tank is nearly empty and that she is afraid she will run out of oil before her next scheduled delivery next week. She said she was additionally frustrated by the busy tones she encountered when trying to call Friday.
"I'm afraid I'm going to drop them because I don't like the way they treat customers," she said.
Two schools in Litchfield, both of which are Fuller customers, ran out of oil in December, though neither shortage affected students, according to their principals.
Litchfield Middle School and Griffin Memorial elementary school in Litchfield each ran out of oil last month, said their respective principals, Tom Lecklider and Scott Thompson. Lecklider said the middle school ran out on Dec. 26 and the elementary school ran out during a weekend in mid-December, Thompson said. In each case, oil was delivered in time for classes, they said.
Tom Prescott, owner of Johnny Prescott Oil and Propane in Concord, said his office receives calls from Fuller customers "on a daily basis" who complain that Fuller Oil is partially filling tanks or delaying oil deliveries.
He said that, because of Fuller Oil's size, the prospect of shortages or future problems with Fuller Oil presents other oil companies with the specter of having to try to meet demands of current customers and potential Fuller customers. He said he dispatched trucks between Christmas and New Year's Day to top off customers' tanks in anticipation of receiving future calls from Fuller customers who need immediate oil deliveries.
"And I'm suggesting to other oil companies that they do the same," Prescott said. "If (Fuller) goes under this time of year, we can't handle (the demand). We still have three months of winter left," he said.
The company's owner, Frederick Fuller, has had some legal and financial issues in the last two years. He is facing personal tax liens from the IRS, pleaded no contest to simple assault after being charged with sexually assaulting an employee last year and is the target of a federal lawsuit connected to those sexual assault charges.
But Leeming said Fuller Oil does not have financial problems — he said it has no debt — and that the delivery issues were not caused by finances.