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Business digest

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 23, 2001


J&J SETTLES COLLUSION CHARGES: Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay up to $60-million to settle claims by 32 states that accused contact lens manufacturers of colluding to inflate their prices. The company will provide discounts of up to $100 for purchases of contact lenses and eye exams, said New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. In addition to the discounts, Johnson & Johnson will pay $25-million to a settlement fund. Vistakon, a unit of Johnson & Johnson, denied it colluded or caused the prices to exceed competitive levels. Johnson & Johnson was the last company in the antitrust case to settle. Bausch & Lomb Inc. and Ciba Vision, the eye-products unit of European drugmaker Novartis AG, previously settled.

XEROX PROBE EXPANDS: Federal regulators are widening a probe of Xerox Corp., examining transactions between the company and Citibank, the Wall Street Journal reported. The Securities and Exchange Commission has subpoenaed Citibank for records of transactions at Xerox's Brazil unit, the newspaper reported. A spokeswoman for Citigroup would not comment on the report. The SEC has been investigating Xerox's accounting practices after the company acknowledged accounting irregularities at its Mexico unit.

ALBERTSON'S CFO RESIGNS: Albertson's Inc. said chief financial officer Craig Olson resigned, a month after the company appointed a new chief executive. Olson is leaving to pursue other opportunities, Albertson's said in a statement. The grocery chain named senior vice president and controller Richard Navarro as interim chief financial officer. Albertson's named former General Electric executive Lawrence Johnston as chief executive in April.

HEALTHSOUTH SETTLES CASE: HealthSouth Corp. has agreed to pay the Department of Justice $7.9-million to settle allegations of health care fraud. The government alleged that the Birmingham, Ala., company overcharged Medicare for equipment and supplies purchased from G.G. Enterprises, a company owned by the parents of HealthSouth's chief executive Richard Scrushy. HealthSouth also allegedly overbilled Medicare for rental payments and the costs of an abandoned computer system. HealthSouth has more than 2,000 locations and is the nation's largest provider of outpatient surgery, diagnostic imaging and rehab treatment. The company has 176 facilities in Florida, including 23 in the Tampa Bay area.

GLOBAL IMAGING BUYBACK: Global Imaging Systems Inc. has approved spending up to $4-million on a stock buyback program in an ongoing quest to prove investors are undervaluing the Tampa office-equipment distributor. "After all, Global is the most profitable, fastest-growing publicly traded company in the office imaging industry," president and chief executive Tom Johnson said in a statement. Global, which targets medium-size clients, closed its fiscal 2001 reporting a 10 percent increase in net income on a 26 percent increase in revenue. Its recently invigorated stock rose 76 cents a share, or 8.5 percent, to close at $9.74 a share.

PARTNERSHIP NAMES OFFICERS: Tampa Bay Partnership named new officers at its annual meeting. Hoyt R. "Barney" Barnett, vice chairman of Publix Super Markets Inc., is chairman; lawyer Rhea F. Law of Fowler White, vice chairwoman; and BayCare Health System president and chief executive Frank V. Murphy, secretary-treasurer. The partnership works to market the region nationally and internationally.

7-ELEVEN TO OFFER CHECK CASHING: Equifax Inc. and 7-Eleven Inc. are teaming up to provide automated check-cashing services at convenience stores in Texas and Florida starting this summer. Customers will be able to use the kiosks for payroll, personal and other check-cashing services. A spokeswoman for 7-Eleven said a nationwide roll out could begin late this year or early 2002. Equifax is best known as the nation's largest credit reporting agency, but it also authorizes checks and provides credit card processing services.

LUFTHANSA, UNION SEEK ARBITRATION: Lufthansa and the union representing most of its pilots agreed to take their bitter pay dispute to arbitration, and the union said it would hold off on strike action during the process. The pilots plan to strike every Thursday until their demands are met and have warned they may step up their protest with unannounced stoppages.

APPLE PLANS STORE IN TAMPA: Apple Computer Inc., which last week opened its first retail store in McLean, Va., is planning one for Tampa. Help wanted ads on Apple's Web site seek staff for a store to be located in the new International Plaza mall near Tampa International Airport. Executives at Taubman Centers Inc., developer of the mall that is scheduled to open in September, said they have had "conversations" with Apple but no contract has been signed.

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