archived august 1

The Scene: Delray Chamber meets at City National Bank.

archived July 22

Realtors cut forecast for the year

WASHINGTON — The National Association of Realtors cut its forecast for home sales and prices for the year. MORE.

Insurance agent loses license for scamming senior citizens

BOCA RATON — Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has revoked the license of a South Florida insurance agent and ordered him to pay a $40,000 fine for targeting senior citizens, some suffering from dementia, for the sale of unsuitable deferred annuities. In one instance, Joseph John Ripa, 48, convinced an 83-year-old retiree seeking supplemental retirement income to invest his entire savings in an annuity that provided no immediate income and carried with it 13 years of surrender charges as high as 17 percent.“It is sad and deplorable that anyone would take advantage of senior citizens looking for help in supplementing their income,” Sink said. “This man knowingly locked his customers’ money away in annuities that could be accessed only by paying steep penalties or after a dozen years or more, and that certainly was not to the benefit of the customers he targeted.”Ripa, who was associated with Fidelity Assurance Inc., of St. Petersburg, was aware that the products he was selling were unsuitable for the consumers he targeted, but concealed that fact by failing to disclose surrender charges, penalties and other potentially harmful features of the products. His customers ranged in age from 75 to 90, and in at least three instances he targeted consumers who he knew suffered from dementia.

Labor Dept. wins restitution order against Miami firm for raiding fund

MIAMI — The Labor Department has won a default judgment of about $1.2 million against a Miami firm and its president for raiding the company’s profit-sharing retirement plan.The order requires Miami-based X-Ray Equipment Co. and President Colen Carter to repay $1.2 million, plus interest. The Labor Department, which sued the company, alleged that Carter and X-Ray  made loans from the retirement fund and failed to collect either principal or interest owed. It also alleged that X-Ray co-mingled the retirement fund with company accounts.

Noven strikes deal for New York specialty drug company JDS

MIAMI — Noven Pharmaceuticals Inc. said Tuesday that it has agreed to buy specialty drug maker JDS Pharmaceuticals for $135 million.Noven will pay about $125 million in cash for the company and assume about $10 million in JDS debt.Noven shares were down $2.04 to $21.51 in late morning trading. Based in New York City, JDS is a privately held specialty pharmaceutical company that markets two prescription psychiatric drugs and is developing other psychiatric and women’s health products. The deal is expected to close in August.“The transaction advances Noven from a leading drug delivery company to a broader-based, fully-integrated specialty pharmaceutical company,” said Noven chairman and CEO Robert C. Strauss. “We believe it will increase Noven’s growth rate over the longer term, as well as greatly improve the visibility of our pipeline and financial goals.”

Florida's foreclosure rate double; state ranks second nationally

DELRAY BEACH — Foreclosures in Florida have more than doubled during the first six months of 2007 compared to the same period a year ago, according to the California tracking firm the first six months of the year, there were 89,877 home foreclosures, compared with 39,039 a year ago, a 130 percent increase.The picture isn’t any better in South Florida.Broward foreclosures totaled 12,943, compared with 6,013 a year ago; in Miami-Dade, the total was 18,151, compared with 7,879 a year ago.In Palm Beach County, there were 9,090 foreclosures compared with 4,909 through the first six months of last year.Florida ranked second nationally in foreclosures per capita, according to Nationally, 3 out of every 1,000 homeowners have been foreclosed on so far this year.

Coventry Health Care Inc. to buy Vistahealthplans for $685 million

HOLLYWOOD — Maryland-based Coventry Health Care said Monday that it is buying the parent of Hollywood-based Vistahealthplan. Vista has 295,000 customers throughout Florida.Vista has revenue of more than $1 billion. It has a network of 5,000 doctors and hospitals in South Florida alone..

Stocks make mild gains awaiting second quarter earnings reports


Grand jury indicts four on credit card fraud, identity theft charges

MIAMI — A federal grand jury indicted four Miami-Dade residents on fraud charge for their alleged involvement in a credit card and identity theft ring.The four are: Geovani Barrios-Delgado; Elizabeth C. Barrios, Marilyn Mendoza and Julio Gonzalez. They are charged with conspiracy to commit credit card theft and aggravated identity theft.According to the indictment, Barrios-Delgado and Barrios fraudulently would obtain credit reports of hundreds of people, then sell them to other conspirators, who would assume the identity of the credit card holders.They would call the credit card companies and ask for replacement cards.Mendoza, and other co-conspirators, using different credit accounts, made purchases and obtained cash advances throughout South Florida. The ring was responsible for in excess of $400,000 worth of fraudulent purchases and cash advances.Barrios-Delgado and Barrios face as much as 47 years in prison, if convicted. Mendoza and Gonzalez could receive as much as 17 years in prison.

Spherion survey: Worker confidence hits four-month high

FORT LAUDERDALE — More U.S. workers believe that the economy and job market are strengthening despite declining confidence in their ability to find a new job themselves, according to Spherion Corp.’s monthly survey.The Spherion Employee Confidence Index increased 1.2 points to 58.7 in June, its highest number since February.The survey, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Spherion, found that 77 percent of workers remain confident that they will not lose their jobs in the next year.The percentage of workers who believe there are more jobs available increased four percentage points to 27 percent. However, the percentage of workers who believe that they can find a new job increased by 2 percentage points, to 14 percent."Recent economic reports about the manufacturing sector and inflation suggest that the U.S. economy is in good shape, and workers are certainly feeling this in their pocketbooks,”  Spherion CEO Roy Krause said. "In addition to all of this, the job market is still quite healthy as employers add to their payrolls on a consistent basis."Even though total job growth has slowed in comparison to 2006, it's much more difficult to find skilled workers this year.”

Burger King begins national roll out of trans fat free cooking oils

MIAMI — Burger King Corp. said Friday that it has begun the rollout of a trans fat free cooking oil to its restaurants in the United States. Two trans fat free oil blends have passed the company’s criteria for taste, supply and use, allowing the company to begin the national rollout.The company expects that every U.S. restaurant will be using trans fat free cooking oil by the end of 2008. If adequate supply becomes available, the U.S. rollout of trans fat free oils could be completed substantially sooner.“We are delighted by the outstanding consumer response to our new oil,” said Russ Klein, Burger King’s president of global marketing, strategy and innovation. “In tests on over a dozen core items, consumers determined that Burger King products cooked in trans fat free oil tasted the same or better than products cooked in the traditional oil. We are proud to offer a healthier oil with the same great taste.”

Business Jet Seats launches charter service to 215 U.S. markets

WEST PALM BEACH — Business Jet Seats Inc. said Thursday that it is officially launching “charter-the-seat” jet service to 215 markets in the U.S.The West Palm Beach-based company says it can save customers as much as 50 percent per seat over the cost of chartering an entire aircraft.BJS says it has an arrangement with CharterX, an online exchange service for aircraft charter services, to offer the per-seat-charter to travelers while using seats that otherwise would be empty.Board members include Joseph Vittoria, chairman and CEO of Puradyn Filter Technologies of Boynton Beach and former chairman and CEO of Avis. Also involved in the company are Alfred Rapetti, a Palm Beach resident and former chair of Avantair, a private-jet fractional ownership company; and Joseph Grimes and Dean Rotchin, who are with a startup air taxi company called EarthJet in West Palm Beach.

Watsco to buy competitor ACR

MIAMI — Watsco Inc. has agreed to buy competitor ACR Group Inc. of Houston for $78.5 million.The deal works out to $6.75 a share for ACR’s shareholders.ACR has annual sales of $240 million, making it one of the largest heating and air conditioning equipment distributors in the country.It operates from 54 locations and serves more than 12,000 air conditioning and heating contractors throughout Florida, Texas, California, Georgia, Tennessee, Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Nevada and New Mexico. ACR has 503 employees. "ACR will operate as a subsidiary of Watsco under its present name and superb management team and Watsco will provide resources where needed to assist with ACR's growth plans," said Watsco CEO Albert Nahmad.The $6.75 a share offer represents a 42 percent premium over ACR’s average trading price during the previous three months. ACR’s board has agreed to the offer, and the company’s executive officers have agreed to tender their shares.The deal, however, requires that at least two-thirds of the company’s remaining shares be tendered. It is expected the deal will close in August.

Employers should save as state cuts workers comp assessments

TALLAHASSEE — Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink Tuesday ordered a 50 percent cut in workers compensation trust fund assessments, citing a strengthening economy and market for workers comp insurance.The move should save Florida employers as much as $19 million. Insurers pay the assessment based on premiums written, but they are required legally to reflect the decrease in their rates.“During the past five years, Florida’s healthy workers’ compensation system has led to the addition of 28 new carriers writing workers’ compensation in our state,” Sink said.  “A strong economy and tougher compliance efforts have generated significant premium growth, making these reductions to the workers’ compensation trust fund assessment rate possible.”The trust fund covers the state’s costs in administrating the workers comp system. The assessment rate has declined to .25 percent of premium from 2.56 percent in 2002.

KL principal pleads guilty to fraud

WEST PALM BEACH — Yung Bae Kim, one of principals in the $200 million KL Financial hedge fund scam, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and fraud charges in federal district court.Kim faces a maximum of 25 years in prison, five years supervised release, a $500,000 fine and restitution. He is set to be sentenced on Nov. 2.KL Financial was a hedge fund headquartered in West Palm Beach, where it preyed largely on wealthy Palm Beachers.Yung Kim, along with Won Son Lee and brother John Kim, portrayed KL as a highly successful hedge fund, making huge profits shorting tech stocks. Prosecutors say the fund was nothing more than a Ponzi scheme, paying old investors with funds taken from newer victims.To hide the scam, Yung Kim would transfer money from one fund to another. At one point, only months before KL would closes its doors in early 2005, with investors about to bolt with their money, Yung Kim created a bogus trade sheet showing KL made a one-day profit of $22 million trading tech company Research in Motion. No such trade ever took place.

Business owner convicted in scheme to defraud Medicare

MIAMI — The owner of a Miami health care company faces a maximum of 30 years in prison after a federal court jury found her guilty of conspiring to defraud Medicare. MORE.

Lauderhill man gets 10 years in prison for mortgage fraud scheme

FORT LAUDERDALE — A federal court judge has sentenced a Lauderhill man to 10 years in prison for his role in a $10 million mortgage fraud scheme.Judge Willim Dimitrouleas Friday ordered Ishmael Grant, 60, and a lead defendant in the scheme, to pay $110,655 in restitution and serve three years of supervised release after his prison term. Grant, who has been in custody, was remanded to the Federal Bureau of Prisons to begin serving his sentence.Grant was convicted on April 13 of one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, three counts of mail fraud, and three counts of wire fraud.Grant and others obtained mortgages using straw buyers and submitting false documentation, including false loan applications, false employment verification forms, false salary statements, and false bank account statements reflecting high account balances. Grant and others also used false or stolen Florida’s driver’s licenses, identification cards, and social security numbers.

Hill resigns at Commerce Bank; Agreement with regulators reached

CHERRY HILL, N.J. — Commerce Bancorp, Inc. said Friday that long-time chairman and CEO Vernon W. Hill II, is retiring from Commerce Bank effective today and as chairman and CEO of Commerce Bancorp effective July 31. The bank also said it has reached agreement with federal regulators on insider business dealings. MORE.

Economic growth slowed in first quarter, Commerce Dept. reports

WASHINGTON — The economy grew a rather feeble 0.7 percent in the first quarter of the year, compared with an increase of 2.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2006, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

The Commerce Department cited an upturn in imports, combined with a decline in exports and federal spending.

Corporate profits, however, increased by $23 billion during quarter, compared with a decrease of $4.9 billion in the fourth, according to the same report. The Commerce Department report here.

Miami doctor receives 3 years in prison for scamming Medicare

MIAMI — A Federal judge Thursday sentenced a Miami doctor to three years in prison for his role in scamming Medicare out of $1.3 million.Judge Frederico Moreno also ordered Julian Torres to pay $1.36 million in restitution and serve three years of supervised release after prison.Torres, according to court documents, sold false prescriptions for $50 a pop to two others involved in the scheme, Marcos Martinez and Elsa Dominguez. Martinez and Dominguez, in turn, would refer patients to Torres, who would would write them prescriptions for medical equipment they did not need.Martinez, who ran a medical equipment company, would submt the claims to Medicare. Martinez already has received a sentence of 63 months in prison for his role in the scam.Torres admitted selling about 800 prescriptions and receiving about $40,000 in kickbacks.

Fed holds line on interest rates

WASHINGTON — The Federal Open Market Committee, citing moderating economic growth, held its federal funds rate at 5.25 percent, as expected. The Fed also said inflation is still a concern. The full statement here.

FPL's Hay testifies for carbon fee

WASHINGTON — FPL Group Chairman and CEO Lewis Hay III, told a Senate panel Thursday that a carbon fee as the best way to reduce greenhouse gases.

Hay, testifying before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, acknowledged that global climate change real and “requires prompt policy attention.”

"The simplest, most effective way to do this is through a carbon fee,” Hay said. “A carbon fee is administratively simple; it can be implemented quickly across our economy.”

Hay said he favored a fee based on carbon dioxide emissions; other utilities have argued in favoring a fee based on power generated, instead.

FPL’s argument: the higher the CO2 emissions, the higher the carbon fee that a business or utility will pay. Hay said that to be effective, any program must set a market price on carbon and be applied throughout the economy.

FPL Group CEO Hay to support carbon fee at Senate hearing

JUNO BEACH — FPL Group Inc. said Wednesday that CEO Lewis Hay will testify Thursday before the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee in support of a carbon fee.According to a statement from FPL, Hay will recommend establishing a carbon fee as the “preferred solution” for controlling greenhouse gases, arguing that it is easy to administer, economy-wide and “fair and effective.”

Fresh Del Monte says it has agreed to settlements in banana lawsuits

CORAL GABLES — Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc. said Wednesday that it has agreed to pay a maximum of $2.5 million in claims and attorney fees to settle a class action law suit brought against the company by banana buyers. It’s also agreed to settle a second suit by donating bananas and other produce to charity.The suits have been pending in federal court since 2005.“Fresh Del Monte has always maintained that these lawsuits are without merit and that the company has done absolutely no wrong with respect to its sales of bananas,” said Fresh Del Monte CEO Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh. “However, Fresh Del Monte believes the settlement of these lawsuits, once finally approved by the court, is in the best interest of the company because it will dispose of these class action litigations and eliminate the continued burden of . . . defending against the claims.”

Home builder Lennar Corp. records heavy losses for the second quarter

MIAMI — The downturn in the housing market continues to take a toll on home builders, witness the second quarter numbers from Lennar Corp. issued Tuesday.Lennar post a second quarter loss of $244 million, or $1.55 a share, on revenue of $2.9 billion, compared with profit of $325 million, or $2.04 a share, on revenue of $4.6 billion.For the six months, Lennar lost $175.6 million, or $1.12 a share, on revenue of $5.7 billion. For the same period a year ago, Lennar earned $583 million, or $3.67 a share, on revenue of $7.8 billion."The housing market has continued to deteriorate throughout the second quarter,” CEO Stuart Miller said. “The supply of new and existing homes has continued to increase resulting in declining home prices across our markets. We have continued to adjust pricing to meet today's market conditions. This has allowed us to carefully manage inventory levels; however, it has also resulted in lower margins and further impairments."Miller said Lennar likely will post a loss for the third quarter as well but said the company could not quantify it at this point.Shares of the company were down $1.13 to $37.62 in afternoon trading.

Consumer confidence up in Florida, but down nationally

DELRAY BEACH — Consumer confidence rose slightly in Florida during June but fell sharply nationally, according to separate reports released Tuesday. MORE.

Boca man indicted for fraud

FORT LAUDERDALE — A federal grand jury has indicted a Boca Raton limousine driver who on paper served as an officer of a Pink Sheet company for securities fraud, conspiracy to commit conspiracy fraud and failing to file tax returns.Eli Goldshor, listed as the president of two subsidiaries of Harvard Learning Centers Inc., a Boca company that trades via the Pink Sheets, could face more than 200 year in prison if found guilty on all charges.At one time or another and under various names, Harvard claimed to be the cigar business, operate kidney dialysis centers, an adult sex game, bill collecting and windmill manufacturing. It also offered SAT preparation courses for high school students.According to the indictment, Goldshor through a Harvard officer and unindicted coconspirator, received millions of shares of Harvard stock allegedly as payment for promissory notes that Goldshor had supposedly given the company. Goldshor then sold the stock and split the proceeds with the unindicted coconspirator.

May used home sales, prices drop

DELRAY BEACH — Used home sales in Florida continued to plummet in May, dropping to a level not seen in five years, according to the Florida Association of Realtors.Statewide, 12,607 used homes sold in May compared with 19,072. That’s a drop of 34 percent. The median price — half the homes sold for more, half for less — dropped five percent to $237,000 from $250,000 a year ago. MORE.

Archived July 10

The Scene: Delray Chamber of Commerce takes to Shore for June networking.

archived june 30

Three get prison for North Miami business opportunity scam

MIAMI — Three employees of a North Miami vending company will be spending time prison for their part in scam that stole more than $300,000 from 35 would be entrepreneurs.Evans Eric Baros Jr., Samuel Elmowitz and Dana Kerri Elmowitz Pearl received sentences ranging from 366 days in prison to as much as 26 months for their part in the scam. All three pleaded guilty to wire fraud charges in federal district court. All three were ordered to pay restitution between $339,000 and $369,000 and serve supervised release.All three were employees of MasterVend, a North Miami company that sold distribution rights for vending machines. According to the indictment the three lied to prospective buyers about the profitability of the MasterVend machines and the services MasterVend would provide them.U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta said the prosecution was part of a crackdown on business opportunity fraud that the Justice Department is conducting.

Commerce Department reports growth in tourism spending

WASHINGTON — Tourism spending grew at a rate of 2.3 percent during the first quarter of 2007, down from the 7.4 percent rate posted in the fourth quarter of 2006, the Commerce Department reported.The economy as a whole grew by 0.6 percent in the first quarter and by 2.5 percent in the fourth.Direct tourism employment rose 2.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2006 (the most recent period for which data are available), after growing 1.0 percent in the third quarter of 2006. The fourth quarter acceleration was widespread. By comparison, overall U.S. employment grew 1.5 percent in the fourth quarter and 1.6 percent in the third quarter of 2006.Other highlights from the report include:— Passenger air transportation grew 3.1 percent in the first quarter of 2007 following growth of 6.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2006 (revised).— Traveler accommodations rose just 2.9 percent in the first quarter of 2007 after surging 16.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2006 (revised).— Prices for tourism goods and services turned up, increasing 3.4 percent in the first quarter of 2007 after decreasing 5.9 percent (revised) in the fourth quarter of 2006.

FAU breaks ground on Office Depot Executive Education Center

BOCA RATON — Florida Atlantic University Thursday broke ground on the Office Depot Center for Executive Education, to be built with a $2.8 million donation from the office supply retailing giant.A matching state grant effectively doubled the donation, made to FAU’s Barry Kaye College of Business.The 15,500-square-foot, two-story building will house classrooms, seminar and workshop space. Through the center, FAU will offer corporate training, continuing education classes, degree programs and seminars. It is expected to open next May.“The Center for Executive Education will become a focal point for the Kaye College of Business,” said FAU President Frank T. Brogan. “It symbolizes the very fruitful relationship between our University and Office Depot.”The groundbreaking event also served as the official dedication of the Office Depot Grand Lecture Hall in the College of Business.

Princess CEO to retire in March

MIAMI — Peter Ratcliffe, CEO of P&O Princess Cruises International, has informed Carnival Corp. that he will retire effective March 6.Effective immediately, David Dingle has been promoted to CEO of Carnival UK, with responsibility for the company's British brands — P&O Cruises, Ocean Village and Cunard Line. He also has been appointed chairman of the Carnival plc Management Committee with responsibility for P&OCruises Australia. Alan Buckelew has been promoted to president and CEO of Princess Cruises, also effective immediately.

Floridians saw income grow in Q1

DELRAY BEACH — Personal income grew at a rate of 2.0 percent in Florida during the first quarter of the year, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.Nationally, personal income grew at a rate of 2.2 percent. NewYork had the largest increase at 4.7 percent. North Dakota had the worst rate at -0.1 percent. Florida ranked 23 among the 50 states.During the fourth quarter, income grew in Florida at a rate of 1.2 percent, compared with 1.4 percent nationally. The full report is here.


Home insurer PURE gets state incentive to issue more policies

PLANTATION — Ross Buchmueller, president and chief executive officer with Privilege Underwriters Reciprocal Exchange, the property insurer better known as PURE, said Wednesday that the company has received $17 million from the state through the Insurance Capital Build-up Incentive Program.The money will be used to increases PURE’s policyholder surplus to more than $50 million, enabling PURE to increase the number of homes it insures, Buchmueller said.PURE is a member-owned company that covers homes built under current building codes and insured for more than $1 million.

Carnival Corp. reports increase in profit for 2nd quarter, 6 months

MIAMI — Carnival Corp. Tuesday posted second quarter profit of $390 million, or 49 cents a share, on revenue of $2.9 billion, compared with profit of $380 million, or 47 cents a share, on revenue of $2.7 billion for the same period a year ago.For the six months, Carnival earned $673 million, or 85 cents a share, on revenue of $5.6 billion, compared with profit of $631 million, or 78 cents, on revenue of $5.1 billion.Higher-than-expected fuel costs affected the company’s bottom line."Revenues for our North American and European cruise brands were both in line with our expectations,” CEO Micky Arison said. “The Caribbean, which still had a relatively high percentage of our capacity during the second quarter, continued to
experience price pressure. However, increases in revenue yields from our European brands together with the strengthening Euro and Sterling produced significant revenue yield growth outside of North America."

Nabi Biopharmacueticals continues to pursue sale, says it will lay off 32

BOCA RATON — Nabi Biopharmaceuticals said Monday that it has created the Nabi Biologics strategic business unit while continuing to pursue a sale of all or part of the company.Nabi also said it is laying off 32 workers — about 5 percent of its total. The layoffs are expected to save about $3 million.Earlier this year, Nabi announced a plan to divide itself into two business units while looking for a buyer either for the whole company a portion.Also Monday, Nabi said it has hired regulatory consulting firm Cato Research Ltd. to help with getting U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of Nabi-HB, a drug designed to prevent hepatitis patients who have had liver transplants from getting reinfected."Since I became interim chief executive officer and president of Nabi in February … we have focused and energized the approach of our strategic alternatives process and have leveraged the expertise and success of Cato Research to work more effectively with the FDA to secure expanded regulatory approvals for Nabi-HB," said Dr. Leslie Hudson. "We are achieving the strategic corporate goals that will help us realize the value of our pipeline — the creation of Nabi Biologics and, soon, Nabi Pharmaceuticals."

Home inspection program clears backlog, takes new applicants

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink said Friday that the My Safe Florida Home program has cleared its waiting list and is taking new applications.The program provides free home inspections that indicate ways Florida homeowners can strengthen their homes against hurricanes. Eligible homeowners may receive as much as $5,000 to cover a portion of any work.The program began on a pilot basis last summer and had a backlog of 50,000 applications when it went on hiatus in January. The state resumed inspections in April with the intent of first clearing the backlog.Homeowners may apply at the MSFH program web site, or by calling at 1-866-513-MSFH (6734). Any Floridian who lives in a single-family site-built home is eligible for a free wind inspection through the program.The wind inspections also may qualify homeowners for insurance premium discounts.

Florida job confidence index falls

FORT LAUERDALE — Confidence among Florida workers fell two points in May despite a still-strong job market, according to the latest Spherion Employment Report.The monthly survey of Florida workers, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Spherion Corp., shows that the Florida Employee Confidence Index fell to 57.8 in May, as more workers became concerned about job availability and their ability to find a new job.The survey found:— 23 percent of workers believe that more jobs are available, compared with 31 percent in April.— 55 percent of workers are confident in their ability to find a new job, down from 65 percent in April.— However, the percentage of workers reporting confidence in their current employers grew six points to 66 percent."Despite the drop in overall confidence, the Florida job market remains strong," said Paula Franco, branch manager of Florida for Spherion Staffing Services. "With the state unemployment rate continuously registering lower than the national figure, I fully expect the job market for skilled workers to remain very competitive. This drop in  confidence might stem from concerns about the cost of gas and a slowing housing market that is hitting this area particularly hard.“One thing that employers need to consider is the lasting effect that the real estate market might have on bringing talent into the state and what effect this might have on the overall packages offered."

May jobless rate holds steady statewide and in South Florida

TALLAHASSEE — It doesn’t take long to digest the May unemployment report from Florida’s Agency for Workforce Innovation.Not much has changed.The jobless rate for Palm Beach County remained at 3.3 percent in May, compared with 3.3 percent in April and 3.3 percent in May a year ago, according to the report released Friday.Broward’s jobless rate sat at 2.9 percent, same as in April but down a tad from the 3.0 percent reported a year ago. In Miami-Dade, the rate sat at 3.2 percent, same as in April but down from the 3.5 percent posted a year ago.Statewide, the jobless rate remained at 3.4 percent, again same as in April, compared with 3.5 percent a year ago. The national rate was 4.5 percent.State and national rates are seasonally adjusted; the county rates are not. “Education and health services led job growth this month,” said agency spokesman Warren May. “We’ve consistently seen demand in health services — and that’s greater portion of the growth. This confirms there are jobs out there and jobs being filled.“Construction is down. Manufacturing is down. The rest of the sectors are showing good growth.”

Man who scammed Medicare for $17 million gets 12-year sentence

MIAMI — A Federal court judge Wednesday sentenced a Miami businessman to 12 years and a month in prison for defrauding Medicare of nearly $17.4 million.Ricardo R. Aguera, also known as Pichi, also must pay back $1.7 million and serve three years of supervised release.Aguera, owner of FNA Services, Poey Medical Services and Atlantis Pro-Med Inc., all durable medical equipment companies, paid Medicare recipients throughout Miami-Dade County in order to gain access to their Medicare cards. He would bill Medicare for unnecessary services and equipment, including oxygen concentrators and nebulizers.Aguera would pay patients $100 a month if they agreed to accept aerosol medications they didn’t need; $150 a month if patients agreed to take an oxygen concentrator.Beyond his own scheme, Aguera referred patients to pharmacies and other medical equipment firms. The pharmacies alone bill Medicare for more than $20 million.

Citrix Systems to restate earnings

FORT LAUDERDALE — Citrix Systems Inc. said Wednesday that it will restate earnings for 2004, 2005 and its quarterly reports for 2006 because of improperly backdated stock options granted corporate employees, officers and directors.The company said it has yet to determine “conclusively” the dollar figures involved in the restatement, and will consult with the Securities and Exchange Commission on certain accounting issues.Citrix has been conducting an internal investigation into its stock option practices for the past seven months. The review included 27,000 options grants given since 1996.The company said it found that there was no intentional wrongdoing by any of its current executives. In a related matter, Citrix said Nasdaq has given it until July 31 to file its annual report for 2006 and other overdue financial statements.

Publix expands generator program

LAKELAND — Since first announcing its plans to install 400 generators in hurricane-prone areas last year, Publix Super Markets is adding more than 270 generators to its program in order to cover all Florida stores, where practical.“We continue to work with and rely on the local municipalities and county government offices to expedite our efforts in the permitting process,” said Maria Brous, Publix director of media and community relations. “Our goal is to have all generators installed by the end of 2008.”The total generator program is expected to cost $175 million.“We’ve undertaken this major investment so the communities we serve will have access to life’s necessities after a storm,” said Brous. “We are a part of our customers’ lives every day. Being able to help them get back on their feet is the primary goal for this program.”To date, Publix has installed 269 generators.

DiVosta to lay off 134 workers

PALM BEACH GARDENS — DiVosta Building Corp. announced Monday that it is laying off 134 workers in August.It is the second time within a week that DiVosta has filed notice with Florida's Agency for Workforce Innovation that it intends to lay off workers. Altogether, homebuilder DiVosta has let go of 256 workers since the beginning of the year.DiVosta is a division of Pulte Homes Inc. of Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Carnival exercises option for Holland America cruise ship

MIAMI — Carnival Corp. said Monday that it has exercised its option to build a 86,000-ton vessel for its Holland America Line brand.The new 2,100-passenger ship will be built by Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri at its Marghera shipyard at an estimated cost of 425 million euros, or about $567 million. Delivery is scheduled for fall 2010."Holland America Line is performing very well and its growth is consistent with our business strategy for the premium segment of our business which seeks to capitalize on the increasing affluence of the baby boomer generation,” said Carnival CEO and Chairman Micky Arison. “The exercise of this option is another opportunity to strengthen Holland America's position as the leading premium cruise brand in the world."The new vessel will be a sister to the Eurodam, which is already under construction at Fincantieri and due to debut in summer of 2008. Eurodam's size has been increased slightly since originally announced and both ships will have a bed capacity of 2,100. The two ships will be the largest in Holland America's fleet, and represent a 23 percent increase in the cruise line’s capacity.

Miami Chamber, United Way help form home ownership program

MIAMI — The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with United Way of Miami-Dade and with the collaboration of the Realtor Association of Greater Miami and the Beaches and participating lenders, has launched an Achieving Homeownership Initiative.The initiative is a worksite-based campaign designed to promote and boost homeownership opportunities by offering a broad-based introduction to homeownership. MORE.

archived June 26, 2007

Hotel lays off 88 employees

RIVIERA BEACH — The Oceanfront Crowne Plaza Hotel at 3200 N. Ocean Blvd. will lay off 88 workers on August 10, according to the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation.Also, DiVosta Building Corp. in Palm Beach Gardens said it would lay off 71 employees at the end of July. It will be the third lay off this year for DiVosta, which builds houses. Altogether, DiVosta has let go of 122 workers this year.

26 arrested for using bogus IDs

WEST PALM BEACH — Authorities have arrested 26 workers for using fraudulent identifications to get jobs. The arrests stem from an investigation by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Financial Services, which has uncovered 115 people using the Social Security number of a 10-year-old girl. Other bogus numbers have been found as well. The investigation began with the DEP looking into allegations that people were illegally harvesting and selling aquatic plants. Investigators uncovered a worker who had used a fictitious Social Security number.As a result, workers using bogus Social Security cards have been arrested this week on job sites in Seminole, St. Lucie, Broward County and West Palm Beach. Detectives have learned that they bought the cards for $30 to $300 each. 

FPL exploring St. Lucie wind plant

JUNO BEACH — Florida Power & Light Co. and St. Lucie County officials said Thursday that they intend to explore building a wind power plant near the coastline.FPL says it will have to address a number of factors, including the suitability of a site, environmental considerations and permitting requirements.Generally, wind in Florida is not consistently strong and reliable enough to produce a large amount of electricity. FPL, however, will explore ways to build a power plant in the state using expertise from FPL Energy, which operates wind plants elsewhere.St. Lucie County commissioners have stated their support for renewable energy, including wind, in their county.

Investors approve sale of Claire's

PEMBROKE PINES — Claire’s Stores shareholders have voted to approve the sale of the company to private investment firm Apollo Management LP for $3.1 billion.The deal works out to $33 a share. It is expected to close next week.Claire’s sells costume jewelry to girls and young women.

Used home sales continue to sink; prices rise in parts of South Florida

DELRAY BEACH — Used home sales continued to tumble statewide in April but prices showed signs of recovering in South Florida.Statewide sales dropped 26 percent to 12,016 from 16,283 a year ago, while the median price fell 3 percent to $237,800 from $245,900 a year ago, according to the Florida Association of Realtors.Broward County sales tumbled 16 percent in April to 580 from 694 in April a year ago. The median price gained 1 percent to $363,800 from $360,600.In Miami-Dade, used home sales dropped 37 percent to 531 from 843 a year ago, but the median price gained 2 percent to $383,300 from $374,500.Palm Beach County sales fell 17 percent to 665 from 804 a year ago; the median price dropped 3 percent to $376,300 from $386,500 a year ago.Housing industry analysts anticipate that a decline in subprime mortgage loans, coupled with stricter lending standards, could impact housing activity in the coming months. According to National Association of Realtors Senior Economist Lawrence Yun, one benefit for the market is the disappearance of speculative behavior, which contributed to abnormal price growth."Homebuyers today are purchasing for the long-term, generally with a realistic expectation of modest gains over time," Yun said in NAR's latest market outlook. "It's good that we're getting beyond the tendency of some buyers to view housing as a temporary asset to accumulate short-term wealth, which is not to be expected in a normal market." NAR predicts that existing home sales will increase gradually in the second half of 2007, with prices recovering a bit later.

Celebrity Cruises to add ship

MIAMI — Celebrity Cruises said Monday that it has confirmed its order for a fourth Solstice-class cruise ship. The new vessel will enter service in fall 2011, following sister ships Celebrity Solstice in fall 2008, Celebrity Equinox in summer 2009, and Celebrity Eclipse in summer 2010, bringing Celebrity's total fleet to 11 ships. The ship will have capacity for 2,850 guests and will measure a 1,033 feet in length and 121 feet in width. German
shipbuilder Meyer Werft will build the 122,000-ton ship."Ordering a fourth Solstice-class ship is obviously a testament to the demand we've received from travel agent partners and travelers alike for more cruise vacation options with Celebrity," said Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Chairman & CEO Richard Fain.Celebrity estimates the of the ship to be about $280,000 per berth.

Miami businessman gets 10 years for massive Medicare fraud

MIAMI — A Miami businessman who operated four medical equipment companies in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties received a 10-year prison sentence for Medicare fraud Friday in federal district court.Jafet Garcia and his partners bought four medical equipment companies in 2004, including Sunset Medical Corp. and King Medical Service and Supplies, both of Miami, Travelango Services Corp. of Lake Worth and Clear Choice Home Health Inc. of Lantana and used them to submit more than $9 million in bogus claims to Medicare.Garcia and the others obtained patient and doctor information and used it to obtain prescriptions and certificates of medical necessity. A medical billing firm in Miami would submit the claims to Medicare; Garcia and company would receive checks from Medicare and cash them at a check-cashing store. After two or three months, they’d move on to another equipment company to avoid getting caught.

Nabi sell gout drug for $3.7 million

BOCA RATON — Nabi Biopharmaceuticals said Friday that it has sold its anti-gout treatment, Aloprim, to Bioniche Teoranta of Ireland for $3.7 million.Under terms of the deal, Nabi is to receive immediate payment of $1.3 million, plus $1.4 million at the end of 2007. Bioniche will pay Nabi $1 million at the end of 2008.The news came during Nabi’s annual shareholders meeting, during which nine members were elected to the board of directors. Shareholders also approved the selection of Ernst & Young as auditors for the firm.

Florida, local unemployment rates continue near historic lows

TALLAHASSEE — Florida continues to put out some of the lowest unemployment numbers in the nation.The Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation Friday reported a statewide jobless rate of 3.4 percent compared with 3.3 percent in March and 3.3 percent in April a year ago. By comparison, the national rate for April was 4.5 percent."We've been at this level roughly a year," said Warren May, spokesman for the agency. "It's a nice place to be." Broward County produced the lowest rate in South Florida at 2.9 percent, unchanged from March and down slightly from the 3.0 percent posted a year ago.Miami-Dade County had jobless rate of 3.2 percent, up slightly from 3.1 percent in March but substantially down from the 3.6 percent posted a year ago.In Palm Beach County, the jobless rate for April came in at 3.3 percent, same as March, and slightly higher than the 3.2 percent of a year ago.County rates are not seasonally adjusted, making year over year comparisons more meaningful than month to month.Florida added 148,600 jobs during the 12 months through April. The Miami metro statistical area, which includes Broward and Palm Beach counties, led the state in job growth. Of the three counties within the MSA, Palm Beach had the fastest job growth at 2.1 percent."I think we'll see this pattern continue," May said. "The big unknown is the housing market."

Publix expands GreenWise, Apron programs in South Florida

LAKELAND — Publix Super Markets is  expanding its Publix GreenWise Markets and Publix Apron’s programs.“We are always looking for ways to offer a variety of products in convenient locations,” said Maria Brous, Publix director of media and community relations. “These programs will allow us to provide our customers with more value and convenience.”In response to the competition established by natural food retailers, Publix continues to expand its Publix GreenWise Markets, a format for health, natural and organic products with an emphasis on prepared foods. The first market set to open in early fall in Palm Beach Gardens, followed by Boca Raton,  Vero Beach, and Tampa.Publix is also adding a market at 3451 University Dr. in Coral Spring. It’s building a 39,000 square feet store on the site of a former Publix.In a related move, Publix said it is expanding its cooking schools. Currently the schools operate in three cities, and Publixis is adding one in Alpharetta, Ga., and one at 5050 Champion Blvd. in Boca Raton. An opening date for the Boca school has yet to be set.

WCI says it has buyout alternatives

BONITA SPRINGS — Homebuilder WCI Communities, one of the largest builders in South Florida, said Wednesday that it has several buyout offers and urged shareholders to reject a buyout offer from corporate raider Carl Icahn, who is offering $22 a share for the company. WCI shares finished at $20.79, up 74 cents.

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