Investigations into the free gas voucher program that has cost retailers and consumers tens of millions of dollars continue to widen, with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service initiating its own inquiry.
A postal inspection service investigation means the scope of investigations has broadened and the subjects could face tougher penalties for defrauding the public.
"I can confirm that we do have an open investigation," said Doug Smith, U.S. Postal Inspector in Tampa. He said he could not discuss any details.
In February, the Pinellas County State Attorney's Office began an investigation into the free gas voucher program after the state determined that Largo-Clearwater-based Tidewater Marketing Global Consultants had participated in deceptive trade practices in its marketing incentive program.
Tidewater sold and distributed gas vouchers to retailers who used them as incentives to draw customers to their businesses. Major retailers throughout the United States and Canada bought the vouchers for $5 to $25 for vouchers valued at $500.
But thousands of consumers complained they did not receive the promised cards.
With the U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigating, charges could include mail and wire fraud, in addition to potential theft charges.
Ivan Penn can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2332.