Bernie's Fuel Oil files for bankruptcy

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New London — Bernie’s Fuel Oil Co. Inc., the target of three lawsuits seeking more than $2 million for defaulting on bills, has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy after nearly a half century in business. Bernie’s also did business as Clark Oil, having bought the company in September 2006, according to the state.

Under Chapter 7 bankruptcy, a business is liquidated with no intention of starting up again. The Bernie’s bankruptcy filing, signed Friday by company president Daniel J. Groben and available online today, shows the firm with between $1 million and $10 million in liabilities but less than $50,000 in assets.

A list of creditors attached to the filing contains more than 220 names, including individuals, the New London tax collector (owed less than $300) and even local banks.

It also lists the three oil companies that have sued Bernie’s over the past three months: Hess Corp. of Rocky Hill, Global Cos. LLC of Waltham, Mass., and Clark Oil LLC of Noank. The Clark Oil suit was filed by the former owner of the company, Deborah Clark, according to the Department of Consumer Protection.

Hess had sought more than $2.1 million, by far the largest of the three suits.

“Debtor estimates that, after any exempt property is excluded and administrative expenses paid, there will be no funds available for distribution to unsecured creditors,” according to a box checked off in the bankruptcy papers.

A meeting of creditors has been scheduled at 10 a.m. on June 17 at U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Hartford.

The state Consumer Protection Department opened an investigation into Bernie’s last week after The Day reported on the company’s financial difficulties and consumers started complaining about difficulties in getting refills on oil or having the company provide full tanks.

Bernie’s, which has been in business since 1961, distributed oil throughout southeastern Connecticut.

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