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Business Today

Ex-Qwest exec pleads guilty, will cooperate

By wire services
Published December 29, 2005

Former Qwest Communications executive Marc Weisberg pleaded guilty Wednesday to wire fraud and agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors trying to convict former chief executive Joseph Nacchio of illegally dumping more than $100-million in stock.

Weisberg, a former senior vice president who oversaw investments, mergers and acquisitions for Qwest, pleaded guilty to a single count of fraud. He had faced eight counts of wire fraud and three counts of money laundering. Weisberg, who is free on $1-million unsecured bond, faces a March 3 sentencing hearing. Prosecutors said they will seek 60 days of in-home detention, two years of probation and a $250,000 fine.

Florida growers to get at least $200-million

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated at least $200-million for Florida growers and farmers who suffered losses from the 2005 hurricanes, officials said Wednesday. The money was included in last week's budget legislation, said John Hambel, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Bartow. Last year, the department paid Florida growers about $600-million as compensation for their losses from Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne.

Guidant shareholders to vote on Jan. 31

Guidant Corp. shareholders will vote on Jan. 31, four days later than planned, on a $21.5-billion offer by Johnson & Johnson to buy the troubled medical device maker. Jeff Leebaw of J&J said the vote was delayed to allow sufficient time for Guidant shareholders to review proxy materials. Shareholder approval is the last remaining closing condition, he said.

Continental to take back jets from carrier

ExpressJet Holdings Inc. shares fell sharply Wednesday after Continental Airlines Inc. said it would take back 69 regional jets ExpressJet had operated exclusively for the carrier. Continental said it will begin to withdraw the aircraft from ExpressJet starting in 2007 because the operator's rates are too high. The jets are part of a 274-jet fleet that ExpressJet operates for Continental. Shares of ExpressJet tumbled $2.31, or 22 percent, to close at $8.32 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Albertson's board supports CEO

Albertson's Inc.'s board said it supports chief executive Larry Johnston after the grocery chain abandoned talks to sell the company last week. "As the 11 independent members of the Albertson's Board of Directors, we continue to be unanimously supportive of our CEO Larry Johnston," Albertson's board said in a statement. "The board was in total agreement on every step of the process and after thorough consideration, unanimously agreed, voting 12 to 0, to reject the proposal." Albertson's last week turned down a bid by a group to buy the struggling supermarket's grocery stores and stand-alone drug business.

No potatoes were harmed in making this candy bar

Even the maker of the Idaho Spud candy bar thinks it's a little weird. But the chocolate-covered, potato-shaped Spud sells at a rate of 3-million bars a year.

"It's amazing. I'm not sure who eats them all, or if they all get eaten for that matter," said David Wagers, president of Idaho Candy Co.

No, the Spud doesn't have potato in it, though it plays off the popularity of the state's signature crop. It has coconut, maple, vanilla, cocoa that gives it its grayish color, and agar, a seaweed harvested in Morocco and Japan that has been an ingredient from the beginning.

The Spud is perhaps the most widely known of Idaho Candy's creations, and it's certainly the most peculiar. It has a mild maple flavor and a vaguely disquieting texture that Wagers describes as "a grained marshmallow."

Wagers' family sometimes make a Spud fondue, and he's put a few recipes for desserts such as Idaho Spud Mousse on the company's Web site. At Halloween, he and his wife, a dentist, hand out a Spud and a toothbrush to trick-or-treaters.

Idaho Candy sells the Spud in 10 Western states and by mail all over the country. Some specialty candy stores in other states also carry it. Wagers said sales are most brisk at airport gift shops.

It's game on when you park the car

Nissan Motor Co. plans to unveil a concept car equipped with an Xbox 360 system from Microsoft Corp. that allows drivers to play video games.

The Urge will come with a flip-down, 7-inch LCD monitor so parked motorists can play Project Gotham Racing 3, an Xbox car-racing game, Microsoft and Nissan said.

Drivers can use the steering wheel, gasoline pedal and brake pedal to control a virtual racer. Nissan produced the car after surveying 2,000 young adults about features they want. The Urge is designed to appeal to drivers in their 20s and early 30s. Nissan will introduce the Urge on Jan. 9 at the Detroit auto show.

Other chatter

WATCH OUT FOR BIRD FLU SCAMS: NASD, a regulator of the Nasdaq Stock Market, is warning investors to avoid potential stock scams involving companies offering products or services to combat so- called bird flu. Stock promoters have sent at least one fax claiming a company "has the solution" to prevent the spread of the disease, NASD said. The fax urged investors to buy the stock, saying it was "positioned" to leap in value by 250 percent, the regulator said. Sarah Bohn of NASD declined to identify the company or the promoters.

AMERICANS DON'T TRUST BANKRUPTCY: Nearly three-quarters of Americans wouldn't buy a car from a bankrupt company, according to a recent survey. In a nationwide survey by Cincinnati research firm Directions Research Inc., 26 percent of respondents said they would buy or lease a new car from a manufacturer that had declared bankruptcy. General Motors Corp. lost nearly $5-billion in its North American automotive business in the first nine months of 2005, and speculation has mounted among investors that the auto maker may eventually be forced to file for Chapter 11 protection.

Information from the Associated Press and Bloomberg News was used in this report.

[Last modified December 29, 2005, 11:50:25]

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