archived sept. 12, 2007

Office Depot Foundation gives away backpacks Wednesday in South Palm Beach County.

Scenes from Art & Jazz on Atlantic Avenue

archived Sept. 10 2007

Boynton Chamber holds business expo at the mall.

archived august 30, 2007

July jobless rates surge in Florida

TALLAHASSEE — The downturn in the housing market is finally showing up the state’s jobless numbers.Friday, the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation reported that statewide unemployment rate for July shot up to 3.9 percent from 3.5 percent posted in June. A year ago, the rate was 3.3 percent. READ MORE.

Measures get little love at COBWRA

By DAVID SEDORE Palm beach Staff

BOYNTON BEACH — The Florida Association of Realtors supports the property tax reform measure the Legislature passed back in June.  So does the National Federation of Independent Businesses.And polls show voters, who must approve the reform measure at special election slated for January, support its passage by an overwhelming margin.But among those who gathered at Wednesday’s COBWRA meeting to hear a panel discussion on the topic, skepticism was the prevalent sentiment. READ MORE.

Citrix buys computer networking firm XenSource for $500 million

FORT LAUDERDALE — Citrix Systems Inc. said Wednesday that it is buying XenSource Inc., a Palo Alto, Calif., a computer networking software company, for about $500 million in cash and stock.Citrix also agreed to assume about $107 million in unvested stock options.  The deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter.

FPL to propose expanding nuclear plants to meet future demands

JUNO BEACH — Florida Power & Light Co. is going nuclear as a means of meeting growing power demands.At a Public Service Commission workshop on future energy needs held Wednesday in Tallahassee, FPL indicated its intention to file proposals by the end of the third quarter to expand of power production at its nuclear plants in St. Lucie and Turkey Point while pursuing two new nuke units.“These projects will meet the needs of our growing state by ensuring safe and reliable power,” said Armando Olivera, president of FPL. “Nuclear power produces no greenhouse gases, and that is vital as we all work to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that are at the heart of climate change concerns. Moreover, adding more nuclear power will further diversify our fuel mix, which should contribute to increased price stability for our customers.” The PSC recently shot down FPL’s proposal to build a coal-fired plant in Glades County.FPL proposes to add approximately 400 megawatts of generating capacity at Turkey Point and at St. Lucie by 2012. FPL also considering adding two new nuclear units to Turkey Point by 2020, a move that would add up to 3,000 megawatts.FPL now generates about a fifth of its electricity through nuclear reactors. FPL’s customer base is expected to more than double by 2020.

Florida regulators reject insurance rate reductions as inadequate

TALLAHASSEE  — The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation has rejected the rate requests of three companies for failing to reduce homeowners premiums enough. The companies are: Cypress Property & Casualty, requesting a 5.4 percent reduction; First Floridian Auto and Home, requesting an 8.3 percent reduction and; Travelers Indemnity Co. of America, also requesting an 8.3 percent cut.First Floridian is the larges of the three, with 91,295 policies; Cypress follows with 63,129 policies; Travelers is the smallest, with 4,596 statewide."Gov. (Charlie) Crist and the Legislature made some courageous decisions during the January special session," said Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty, "and we will not allow companies to file incomplete or inadequate rate reductions affecting the policyholders of this state."The insurance reform package the Legislature passed in January provides insurance companies with cheaper reinsurance than that available in the private market. The idea was to encourage insurers to get more coverage through the state and pass the savings to their customers. Reinsurance helps insurers cover really big losses from storms.Companies have until Sept. 30 to submit their final reduced rate filings mandated by the law.Last week, OIR postponed a hearing scheduled for Tuesday concerning State Farm’s proposal to drop policies because the insurance giant failed to provide all information requested in subpoenas.

PURE expands coverage to condos

PLANTATION —Privilege Underwriters Reciprocal Exchange said Tuesday that it will expand its homeowners insurance program to include high-end, “well built” condominiums.To qualify, condominiums must have replacement value of at least $500,000, including contents, alterations and additions.“Our study of Florida’s homeowners’ insurance market revealed that a significant number of condominiums — particularly the more recently built — are well-protected against hurricanes, yet most insurance providers do not actively serve this niche,” said Martin Hartley, PURE’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. “Therefore, we decided to expand our product offering to serve this group’s unique needs and provide smart solutions to common problems.”PURE  is also offering up to $25,000 to cover damages to property in a neighboring unit that was caused by a PURE member. PURE, which specializes in covering, high-end recently built homes, has 1,000 policyholders.In May, PURE received a $17 million surplus note from the state, enabling the company to expand its policyholder surplus to $50 million and issue more policies.

Boca financial firms to lay off 51

BOCA RATON — Three Boca Raton financial services companies, all located at the same address, have filed notices with the state that they intend to lay off 51 employees.

The firms are, DB Structured Products, a New York company laying off 7 workers; MortgageIT Inc., another New York company laying off 17; The Johnsson Group, a Chicago firm letting go of 27 employees.WMG Capital bought The Johnsson Group last month.All three list their address as 6000 Broken Sound Parkway, Suite 104. The effective date for all the employees is October 9.

Feds sue to bar Fort Lauderdale man from tax preparation business

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department said Friday that it is suing a Fort Lauderdale man, seeking to bar him from preparing tax returns for others.According to the suit, Joshua Chikudo, who operates Quick Return Tax Services and Income Tax Services, prepared federal income tax returns claiming fraudulent fuel tax credits.The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for South Florida, says that fraudulent fuel credits are a scam that and a serious enforcement problem for the IRS Chikudo’s tax preparation businesses are in Broward and Miami-Dade countiesa.The suit alleges that the IRS has found at least 350 tax returns Chikudo prepared claiming a total of more than $1 million in fraudulent fuel tax credits. Chikudo also allegedly prepares returns with bogus telephone excise tax refund claims and a number of other false claims.The Justice Department obtained injunctions earlier this year against tax preparers in Miami and Dallas who allegedly claimed similar fraudulent fuel tax credits.Since 2001, the Justice Department’s Tax Division has obtained more than 245 injunctions to stop the promotion of tax fraud schemes and the preparation of fraudulent returns.

World Fuel Services reports higher second quarter revenue, profit

MIAMI — World Fuel Services, which serves the aviation and marine industries, late Thursday reported second quarter profit of $17 million, or 61 cents a share, on revenue of $3.3 billion, compared with profit of $14.5 million, or 53 cents a share, on revenue of $2.9 billion for the same period a year ago.

For the six months, earnings totaled $31.8 million, or $1.14 a share, on revenue of $6 billion, compared with revenue of $29.8 million, or $1.09 a share, on revenue of $5.4 billion for the same period a year ago.

"The company delivered solid year-over-year growth in volume and profitability in our marine, aviation and land segments as well as strong operating cash flow," said chairman and and CEO Paul H. Stebbins.

FPL launches online store

JUNO BEACH — Florida Power & Light Company is selling energy efficient products through its new Online Energy Store.Customers can shop for and buy compact fluorescent light bulbs, low flow showerheads and air conditioner filters. Proceeds will go directly to programs designed to help low-income residents improve energy efficiency.FPL says the store works just like any other online shopping site — customers log on at, compare products, make selections and choose shipping options. “We are offering our customers a variety of energy-efficient products in a convenient forum, and these products will help them manage their personal energy use more efficiently,” said FPL Customer Service Vice President Marlene Santos.

GEO Group reports profit growth

BOCA RATON — GEO Group, which builds and manages prisons, Wednesday reported second quarter profit of $12.4 million, or 25 cents a share, on revenue of $258.2 million, compared with profit of $6.3 million, or 20 cents a share on revenue of $209 million for the same period a year ago.For the six months, GEO reported profit of $17.6 million, or $39 cents a share, on revenue of $495 million, compared with profit of $10.9 million, or 36 cents a share, on revenue of $395 million for the same period a year ago.“We are very pleased with our earnings results which reflect strong performance from our three business units as a result of better-than-expected performance by a number of our facilities and new contract wins,” CEO George C. Zoley said. “Our organic growth pipeline remains strong with projects totaling more than 11,000 beds under development, including projects we activated in the first half of the year, representing more than $198 million in combined annual operating revenues.”

State insurance regulators issue supoenas to State Farm companies

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty has issued subpoenas to State Farm Florida Insurance Co., State Farm Florida Fire and Casualty Insurance Co. and State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., directing the three Florida subsidiaries to appear in a public hearing in Tallahassee.

The subpoenas served on State Farm cite their recently filed non-renewal plans, multi-lines discounts, State Farm's decision to withdraw from condominium business in Florida, and the impact these decisions may have on State Farm's rates.Last month, State Farm, Florida’s largest private home insurer, with more than 1 million policies, announced plans to drop 50,000 policies, all within a few miles of the coast. It also intends to drop an unspecified number of wind-only policies.The public hearing is scheduled to be held at the Senate Office Building, Room 301, at the Capitol on August 14 at 9:30 a.m.The hearing is open to the public, and input from interested parties is welcomed.  The hearing will be taped by the Florida Channel and video will be available online shortly after the hearing at

Those unable to attend the public hearing are welcome to forward comments to the Office at  The subject lines of the emails should read State Farm Hearing.

Fed holds on interest rates despite continued concerns over inflation

WASHINGTON — The Federal Open Market Committee has held short-term interest rates at 5.25 percent, citing expectations for continued moderate economic growth and a continuing risk of inflation. The Fed release.

Tenet Healthcare narrows loss

DALLAS — Tenet Healthcare, which operates 12 hospitals in South Florida, including 6 in Palm Beach County, reported a loss of $30 million, or 6 cents a share, on revenue of $2.23 billion for the second quarter ended June 30.

That compares with a loss of $398 million, or 85 cents a share, on revenue of $2.20 billion for the same period a year ago.

Tenet’s South Florida operations have been a sore point for the company, and patient volume in the region remains particularly soft, according to company officials.

“While patient volumes remained soft in the quarter and an increase in uninsured patients put additional pressure on our profitability, we remain confident that we are implementing strategies that have the potential to drive improved financial performance over the longer-term. To this end, we are pleased that our volume performance improved in July,” said CEO Trevor Fetter. “Volume growth and continued advances in clinical quality remain our top priorities.”

Pediatrix reports profit increases for 2006, first quarter of 2007

FORT LAUDERDALE — Pediatrix Tuesday reported profit of 124.5 million, or $2.52 a share, on revenue of $818.6 million for the year ended Dec. 31. Pediatrix delayed filing the results until completion of an internal investigation into the backdating of stock options.That investigation began last fall and wrapped up last month.For 2006, the company reported profit of $87.5 million, or $2.32 a share on revenue of $693.7 million.“Our operating results demonstrate that we continue to execute on our strategy of growing our national group practice and managing it more efficiently,” said CEO Roger J. Medel. “We are achieving significant operating efficiencies while delivering value-added services to our physicians and we remain confident that our model is attractive to more physician groups within our core subspecialties, as well as other hospital-based specialties.”For the quarter ended March 31, Pediatrix reported profit of $25.6 million, or 51 cents a share, on revenue of $214.5 million, compared with profit of $23.4 million, or 48 cents a share, on revenue of $187.7 million.


Sun Capital buys Boston Market

BOCA RATON — Private investment firm Sun Capital Partners has agreed to buy the Boston Market restaurant chain from McDonald's. Boston Market operates 630 restaurants nationally. Terms were not disclosed.Sun Capital last week closed on a deal to buy the Limited chain of women's clothing stores. Limited operates 260 stores in 42 states.

Grand jury indicts Miami man for Medicare kickback conspiracy

MIAMI — A federal grand jury has charged a Miami businessman  with paying kickbacks to durable medical equipment companies and doctors as part of scheme to rip off Medicare.Juan Carlos Castaneda, who owned and operated International Surgical-Med Pharmaceuticals Corp., a Miami pharmacy, faces one count of conspiring to violate the Medicare Anti-Kickback Statute and two counts of paying illegal kickbacks. Prosecutors allege that between December 2000 and January 2004, Castaneda paid illegal kickbacks to numerous DME company owners in return for their referral of patients to his company.According to the charges, Castaneda had his employees deliver respiratory medications to the referred patients on a monthly basis and then billed Medicare for the cost.. After receiving his monthly payment from Medicare, Castaneda would kickback about 50 percent of the money to the DME company owners.During the course of the conspiracy, Castaneda  allegedly paid more than $1 million in kickbacks.

Publix Super Markets launches free prescription drugs program

LAKELAND —­ Publix Super Markets is offering a free prescription drug program at its 684 in-store pharmacies for seven commonly prescribed generic oral antibiotics.
The included antibiotics account for almost 50 percent of the generic, pediatric prescriptions filled at Publix. New or current customers need to provide a prescription, up to a 14-day supply, and it will be filled at no charge. There is no limit to the number of prescriptions customers may fill for free.The free antibiotics are offered to customers regardless of their prescription insurance provider. The drugs include:— Amoxicillin.— Cephalexin.— Sulfamethoxazole/Trimethoprim (SMZ-TMP).— Ciprofloxacin (excluding ciprofloxacin XR).— Penicillin VK.— Erythromycin (excluding Ery-Tab). — Ampicillin.

Foreclosures continue to soar in Palm Beach, Broward counties

DELRAY BEACH — It’s getting uglier by the month.Mortgage defaults and foreclosures continue at an alarming rate nationwide, swallowing up home ownership dreams for tens of thousands more Americans every month.In Florida, foreclosure filings increased to 21,120 in July from 13,005 the previous month, an increase of nearly 62 percent, according to, a Sacramento, Calif., research firm. READ MORE.

Bloomberg: Insurers use various tactics to avoid paying full claims

Insurers routinely undervalue claims or deny them altogether in order to maintain profitability, often daring customers to fight back, according an investigative report by Bloomberg News.

First NLC to lay off more than 600

BOCA RATON — Subprime lender First NLC Financial Services said it plans to let go of about 645 workers — nearly half its staff. About a third of those cut will come from the company's Boca Raton headquarters. First NLC moved to Boca earlier this year.

Tamarac family charged with grand theft and fraud in loan scheme

TAMARAC — Three members of a family, all of whom work for the same Tamarac financial company face, face charges of orchestrating a loan fraud scheme that allowed them to pocket $100,000 by inflating the sale price of a home.Sylvester Cuffy, 58, son Johnson Cuffy, 30, and daughter Lillia Cuffy, 35, were arrested last week on charges of grand theft and fraud and were booked into the Broward County Jail. Jason Donn, 36, a real estate broker who handled the loan closing, faces the same charges.The arrests are the result of an ongoing investigation by the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud.The Cuffys were employed at the BlueKap Financial Group in Tamarac. According to authorities, the three submitted a fraudulent loan application to a California-based lender that stated that a home they bought for $240,000 nearly two years ago, actually cost $340,000.The three pocketed the extra $100,000, and the home has since gone into foreclosure.

Spherion's monthly survey finds confidence rising among workers

FORT LAUDERDALE — Confidence among U.S. workers rose slightly in July, as more workers were optimistic about the state of the jobs market.

The Spherion Corp. confidence index increased by 0.1 points to 58.8 in July, compared to its June reading. A year ago, the index stood at 57.8.MORE.

Carnival Cruise lines to set record for Caribbean traffic in 2007

MIAMI — Carnival Cruise Lines said Thursday that it will carry 2.9 million passengers to the Caribbean during the 2007 season, the most in its 35-year history.Carnival said it expects to bolster those numbers when the new Carnival Freedom begins its winter schedule of seven-day Caribbean cruises from Miami in November. MORE.

Competitor BanxCorp sues Bankrate for antitrust actions

By DAVID SEDORE, Palm Beach Staff

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — BanxCorp said Thursday that it is suing North Palm Beach-based Bankrate in federal court in New Jersey, alleging the company has created a monopoly in collecting and distributing interest rate and other bank data"You don't have to take our word for it when it comes to Bankrate's abuses; Bankrate's own words best and most reliably describe how its conduct violates federal and state antitrust laws," BanxCorp founder CEO Norbert Mehl said Thursday.Bankrate denied the allegations, calling the suit frivolous MORE.

Bankrate doubles 2nd quarter profit

NORTH PALM BEACH — Bankrate Thursday reported second quarter profit of $5.2 million, or 29 cents a share, on revenue of $23.3 million, compared with profit of $2.5 million, or 15 cents a share, on revenue of $19.7 million for the same period a year ago.For the six months, earnings totaled $10.6 million, or 58 cents a share, on revenue of $45.5 million, compared with year ago earnings of $4.9 million, or 29 cents a share, on revenue of $39.5 million."We are pleased to report another quarter of solid results," stated CEO Thomas R. Evans. "Our core online business continues to gain momentum, and the component pieces of consumer traffic, advertising demand and pricing leverage remain strong."

Open enrollment for health coverage begins for self-employed

TALLAHASSEE — August is open enrollment month for single-group employers to get health insurance or switch plans on a guaranteed-issue basis, meaning insurers and HMOs must offer coverage without regard to health status.  The open enrollment period begins Wednesday and continues through August 31. “Our small employers are the backbone of this state and I want to make sure they take advantage of this once-a-year opportunity to get health coverage,” said CFO Sink.  “There is no other time of year that coverage is guaranteed for the self-employed, so they should act now to get insurance or review their current policy.”Companies that write coverage for small groups are required to offer basic or standard plans to the self-employed.A list of insurance companies offering coverage is posted on the Department of Financial Services' website. More about plan options can be found here.

Eclipsys reports strong 2nd quarter

DELRAY BEACH — Eclipsys Wednesday reported second quarter profit of $5.7 million, or 11 cents a share, on revenue of $119 million, compared with profit of $1.8 million, or 3 cents a share, on revenue of $102 million for the same period a year ago.

For the six months, profit was 8 million, or 15 cents a share, on revenue of $232 million, compared with a loss of $6.1 million, or 12 cents a share, on revenue of $203 million a year ago.

"The second quarter was one of the strongest in Eclipsys history,” CEO R. Andrew Eckert said. “We won new clients and expanded our product footprint at many of our existing clients.”

Shares of Eclipsys were up $1.66 to $23.39 in early afternoon trading.

Consumer confidence hits a high nationally, but drops in Florida

Palm Beach Staff

GAINESVILLE — Consumer confidence statewide and nationally went in opposite directions in July, according to separate reports released Tuesday.The Conference Board’s national Consumer Confidence Index gained 7.3 points to 112.6 — its highest reading since August 2001.Meanwhile, the University of Florida’s consumer confidence index for the Sunshine State fell a point to 81. MORE.

B/E Aerospace reports second quarter profit surge; shares fall

WELLINGTON — B/E Aerospace Tuesday reported second quarter profit of $28.4 million, or 31 cents a share, on revenue of $398 million, compared with profit of $18.7 million, or 24 cents a share, on revenue of $272 million for the same period a year ago.

For the six months, the company, which makes aircraft interior parts and fasteners, reported profit of $60.5 million, or 71 cents a share, on revenue of $786 million. That compares with profit of $32.5 million, or 43 cents a share, on revenue of $519 million, for the same period a year ago.

 “The second quarter of 2007 was another record quarter for B/E Aerospace as each of our business segments contributed to the strong overall results,” said chairman and CEO Amin J. Khoury. “As expected, our operating margin increased by 190 basis points versus the same period in the prior year. This solid margin expansion is primarily due to the high quality of our record backlog, the operating leverage inherent in our business and productivity initiatives.”

The company increased its earnings estimate for the year by two cents, to $1.57 a share, and for 2008 to $2.25 from $2 a share.

B/E shares were down $1.85 to $41 in afternoon trading.

Ocean Land pulls the plug on Briny Breezes development project

BRINY BREEZES — Ocean Land Investments, the firm that had proposed to develop Briny Breezes into a mix of condos and commercial uses, has pulled out the $500 million deal to buy the 43-acre oceanfront trailer park.The company made the announcement Monday after Briny Breezes refused Ocean Land’s request to extend the deal's due diligence period for 45 days. The original due diligence period was to expire August 10.Development plans for the property have been criticized by residents in neighboring communities and by regulatory agencies, including the state Department of Community Affairs. MORE.

Boynton Beach man admits selling mislabeled, contaminated foods

WEST PALM BEACH — A Boynton Beach businessman has pleaded guilty in federal court to selling mislabeled and contaminated prepared foods.Timothy Delong, president of Atlantis Foods, which did business as Culinary Designs, sold chicken salad, Maine lobster dip, salmon cream cheese, salmon spread, chicken salad with almonds and cranberries, and crab stuffing, all of which contained listeria bacteria. According to a criminal information, Delong sold the products to his customers but did not notify them of the contamination and did not order a recall after lab tests found the bacteria.Delong also sold a product labeled Smoked Rainbow Trout Spread that had no trout in it, but instead was made with tuna.Delong faces a maximum penalty of up to 20 years imprisonment on the first count and as much as 3 years on the second. Delong also faces fines of up to $250,000 and court-ordered restitution as to each of the two counts. No date for sentencing has been set.

FPL Energy outlines plans to expand wind-power operations

JUNO BEACH — FPL Energy said Monday that it plans to add between 8,000 and 10,000 megawatts of wind-powered electrical generating capacity by the end of 2012.FPL Energy plans to add at least 2,000 megawatts in 2007-08, and 1,500 to 2,000 megawatts per year from 2009 through 2012.FPL Energy already has in the pipeline projects in various stages of development representing more than 14,000 megawatts. FPL has more than 1,000 megawatts of new wind projects under construction in Texas, Colorado, Iowa and North Dakota; all are expected to reach commercial operation by the end of this year.“With demand for energy continuing to increase, we believe wind power can have a positive impact on diversifying our energy supply and improving our environment,” said FPL Energy President Mitch Davidson said. FPL Energy. “We need more economic, reliable and domestic sources of electricity to operate our homes and businesses and wind energy is an important and growing part of our energy supply.“As the largest owner and operator of wind and solar power in the nation, the goal we announced today is part of our ongoing commitment to clean energy generation.”FPL Energy is a subsidiary of FPL Group.

FPL Group sees profit surge

fpl group logoJUNO BEACH — FPL Group Tuesday reported second quarter profit of $405 million, or $1.01 a share, on revenue of $3.9 billion, compared with profit of $236 million, or 60 cents a share, on revenue of $3.8 billion for the same period a year ago.For the six months, profit was $555 million, or $1.39 a share, on revenue of $7 billion, compared with profit of $4878 million, or $1.23 a share, on revenue of $7.4 billion a year ago.“FPL Group delivered very good results overall in the second quarter of 2007, despite unfavorable weather impact at both FPL Energy and FPL,” said CEO Lew Hay. “ FPL’s results were hurt by very weak cooling degree day comparisons, while FPL Energy’s wind portfolio experienced its worst quarter in at least the last 13 years in terms of wind resource availability.”The company reaffirmed its earnings projections for the remainder of the year, and upped its estimate for 2008 to a range of $3.70 to $3.90 a share from $3.60 to $3.80 a share.FPL Group was up $1.37 to $56.29 at mid-day.

archived august 20

Small Business Focus: In Style a dream come true for Diane Goldberg.

archived august 13

Delray Chamber's men's group celebrates anniversary at Old Calypso.

archived august 8, 2007

Florida Venture Forum plans spring showcase for young companies

TAMPA — The Florida Venture Forum, which brings entrepreneurs together with venture capitalists, will conduct a conference aimed at showcasing young companies.The inaugural Florida Early Stage Venture Capital Conference is expected to be held in late May 2008 in the Orlando area,
according to conference co-chairs Alan Taetle, of Noro-Moseley Partners, an Atlanta-based venture capital group, and
Jonathan Cole, a partner with Edwards, Angell, Palmer & Dodge, LLP, a national law firm with offices in South Florida. Both Taetle and Cole serve on the Board of the Florida Venture Forum."Since our inception in 1984, our mission has been to help foster
investment in emerging companies based within Florida,” said John Hill of Hyde Park Capital Partners and chairman of the Florida Venture Forum. “Our highly successful annual venture conference has developed a later stage growth and expansion stage funding orientation, which is consistent with the primary interests today of the institutional investment market."As Florida has grown and expanded in the variety and complexity of entrepreneurial endeavors, and as more and more venture capital funds focus on later stage investment opportunities, we see a need for a specialized conference.”Targeted companies for the conference include start-up life science and biotechs, as well as other emerging technology companies.

Pediatrix to take $33 million charge for improperly backdated options

FORT LAUDERDALE — Pediatrix will have to book $33 million in charges because of improperly backdated stock options given employees, officers and directors between 1997 and 2000, an internal company investigation has concluded.

Pediatrix announced late Thursday that the investigation, which began last fall, found 56 incidents in which grants were backdated in such a way as to make them more valuable for the recipients.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is conducting an investigtion into the matter and the U.S. attorney's office has discussed the matter with the company as well. MORE.

Fortress completes deal for FEC

JACKSONVILLE — Florida East Coast Industries Inc., the railroad and real estate company, is now owned by Fortress Investment Group.FEC said Thursday that Fortress has completed the $3 billion buyout of the company. FEC shareholders approved the deal on Tuesday.FEC shareholders will receive $62.50 a share, plus a special dividend of $21.50.FEC owns the Florida East Coast Railway, which runs through South Florida, and the Flagler Development Group, which has extensive commercial real estate holdings in South Florida.Fortress earlier this year bought Boca Raton-based RailAmerica.

Mortgage rates fall but still higher than 3 months ago, Bankrate finds

NORTH PALM BEACH — Mortgage rates retreated, with the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate now 6.75 percent, down from 6.82 a week ago. According to's weekly national survey of large lenders, the average 30-year fixed mortgage has an average of 0.29 discount and origination points.The average 15-year, fixed-rate mortgage, popular for refinancing, pulled back to 6.42 percent from 6.50 percent. The average jumbo 30-year fixed rate dipped to 7.03 percent.Adjustable rate mortgages were more volatile, with the average 5/1 ARM sinking to 6.41 percent and the average one-year ARM falling to 6.02 percent.Mortgage rates have seesawed within in a now familiar range over the past seven weeks.Fixed mortgage rates are nearly one-half percentage point higher than three months ago, and remain the better refinancing alternative foradjustable rate borrowers facing sharp payment adjustments.

Office Depot sees profit slip

DELRAY BEACH — Office Depot Thursday reported a slip in second quarter profit, reflecting, the company said, the slow-growing economy.Earnings for the quarter came in at $109 million, or 40 cents a share, on revenue of $3.6 billion, compared to earnings of $118 million, or 42 cents a share, on revenue of $3.5 billion for the same period a year ago.For the nine months, earnings were $265 million, or 97 cents a share, on revenue of $7.7 billion, compared to earnings of $248 million, or 87 cents a share, on revenue of $7.3 billion.“For eight straight quarters, we’ve executed the initiatives in our strategic plan to consistently deliver double digit EPS growth to our shareholders …” Office Depot chairman and CEO Steve Odland said. “Unfortunately, this streak came to a halt this quarter. As previously discussed, we knew we were facing significant headwinds as we entered the second quarter this year.“While we are frustrated that we weren’t able to grow earnings at the same rate as in the previous two years, we are pleased that in this challenging sales environment we delivered earnings per share consistent with the prior year and were able to invest in our global business for the future.”Shares were off $2.02 to $26.94 in early afternoon trading.

Housing sales still in deep slumber

DELRAY BEACH — It’s the same old story on housing front — sales continue to slide.The Florida Association of Realtors reported Wednesday that both the number of used homes sold and the median price fell statewide in June.Homes sold fell to 12,954 from 18,607 a year ago, a 30 percent slide. The median price was $243,200 from $256,200 a year ago, a decline of 5 percent.In Palm Beach County, 764 used homes were sold in June, compared with 947 a year ago, a 19 percent decline. The median price fell 7 percent to $377,900 from 405,500 a year ago. In Broward, the number of used homes sold dropped 22 percent to 674 from 861 a year ago, while the median price gained 1 percent to $382,000 from $377,400.Incredibly, Miami-Dade saw the number of homes sold drop 47 percent to 469 from 884 a year ago. The median price fell 2 percent to $371,600 from $378,000."It appears some buyers are simply waiting for more signs of stability before they get serious about getting into the market," said Lawrence Yun, senior economist for the National Association of Realtors. "The market is underperforming when you consider positive fundamentals such as the strength in job creation, economic growth, favorable mortgage interest rates and flat home prices."

BankAtlantic profits improve

FORT LAUDERDALE — BankAtlantic on Wednesday reported second quarter profit of $11.6 million, or 20 cents a share, compared with profit of $8 million, or 13 cents a share, for the same period a year ago.

For the six months, profit was $17.3 million, or 29 cents a share, compared with $14.5 million or 24 cents a share for the same period a year ago.

“While we remain committed to the expansion of BankAtlantic through organic growth, we understand that we are in a very challenging economic cycle,” said BankAtlantic chairman and CEO Alan B. Levan. This quarter’s financial results compared to the prior year reflect growth in deposit accounts, continued opening of new stores, and our focus on operational efficiency. However, it also reflects the significant impact of the economic cycle on our business with margin compression, higher non-performing asset levels and an increase in our loan loss reserves.

Bankatlantic shares were up 64 cents to $8.15 in early afternoon trading. launches co-branded Spanish language website

MIAMI —, the online condo marketplace, is going Spanish language.

The company Tuesday said it is partnering with Terra Networks, the leading U.S. Hispanic Internet portal and largest web access provider in Spain and Latin America, to launch the bilingual online condo marketplace.

The co-branded website,, now delivers the only Spanish language condo marketplace devoted to serving the Hispanic and Latin American real estate communities.

“This strategic partnership will set a precedent for how U.S. and Latin American developers, real estate agents and individual sellers communicate with each other,” said Richard Swerdlow,'s CEO. “Serving the Hispanic and Latin American communities has become increasingly important to the real estate industry and is proud to be leading the way.

Watsco's profit takes a tumble

MIAMI — Heating and air conditioning distributor Watsco Tuesday reported second quarter profit of $22.9 million, or 87 cents a share, on revenue of $471 million, compared with profit of $29 million, or $1.10 a share, on revenue of $504 million for the same period a year ago.For the six months, Watsco earned $33.7 million, or $1.28 a share, on revenue of $842 million, compared with profit of $41.8 million, or $1.60 a share, on revenue of $892 million.

"As previously reported, the combination of a tough year-ago comparison, hotter summer weather a year ago in key markets and a softer new housing market had an impact on our first half results,” said CEO Albert H. Nahmad. “From a long-term perspective, our results for this period rank second to last year's blockbuster results.”

Commerce Bank reports a slight drop in second quarter profit

CHERRY HILL, N.J. — Commerce Bank Tuesday reported second quarter profit of $76.9 million, or 39 cents a share, on revenue of $519 million, compared with profit of $79.5 million, or 41 cents a share, on revenue of $462 million.

For the six months, profit equaled 79 cents a share compared with 82 cents a share a year earlier.

Commerce Bank has 12 offices in South Florida, including branches in Boynton Beach and Delray Beach. The company plans to open 10 stores in South Florida this year, and already has opened its first in Miami Dade County.

Under a recently signed agreement with the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Commerce Bank revised its branch-opening procedures.

Hedge fund KL Financial pleads guilty to conspiracy charges

WEST PALM BEACH — KL Financial, the hedge fund that ripped off dozens of Palm Beach’s wealthiest, has admitted that it was nothing but a fraud all along.

Sort of. MORE.

State rejects Florida Farm Bureau's request to raise homeowner rates

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty said Friday that the Office of Insurance Regulation is denying Florida Farm Bureau's request to raise homeowner insurances rates by 30.3 percent.  OIR held a public hearing on the rate request last week."What we discovered from the testimony at the hearing was that the company made a business decision to reinvest $6 million in added reinsurance rather than passing the savings on to their policyholders," McCarty said.  Insurance companies buy reinsurance to cover major losses.To help insurers cut costs, the state made it easier for companies to buy cheaper reinsurance through Florida’s catastrophe fund, with the idea that  any savings would be passed onto consumers.Said McCarty: "… Florida Farm Bureau's actions are clearly contrary to the intent of that law."The law required insurers to file with the state how much they  expected to saving by buying reinsurance through the state. In March, Florida Farm Bureau said it anticipated a decrease of 24.9 percent.In  May, however, the company made a second filing requesting an increase of 30.3 percent.

Seasonal factors kick up the June jobless rates for South Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s jobless numbers pretty much held steady in June, according to a report released Friday by the state’s Agency for Workforce Innovation.The jobless rate in South Florida’s three counties, however, kicked up because of seasonal factors.Statewide unemployment rose to 3.5 percent in June, compared with 3.4 percent in May and 3.5 percent in June a year ago.In Palm Beach County, the jobless rate hit 4.1 percent compared with 3.3 percent in May and 3.9 percent in June a year ago. Broward’s rate increased to 3.4 percent from  the 2.9 percent posted in May and 3.3 percent a year ago.Miami-Dade saw its jobless rate grow to 3.4 percent from 3.2 percent in May, but lower than the 3.9 percent posted a year ago.County rates are not seasonally adjusted, and the jump in numbers reflects the end of the school year and the beginning of the slow summer months for the  hospitality industry.Health services provided the biggest share of Florida’s jobs growth; construction and manufacturing continued to shed workers.

Watsco lowers earnings estimate

MIAMI — Heating and air conditioning distributor Watsco Inc. on Friday substantially lowered its earnings projections for the year.Per share earnings for the year are expected to be in the range of $2.70 to $2.80 a share, compared with $3.25 to $3.35 previously project.Second quarter earnings per share is estimated to be 87 cents to 88 cents, with sales declining 7 percent.“Our revised guidance reflects our belief that the current business climate may persist for the remainder of 2007,” said CEO Albert Nahmad.Watsco also said it has agreed to sell its staffing unit, Dunhill Staffing Systems Inc., to ATS Group LLC. The transaction closed on July 19, 2007. A loss of 6 cents per diluted share attributable to Dunhill will be reported in the second quarter and Dunhill will be reported as a discontinued operation with prior financial statements restated.

Watsco shares were down $3.17 to $51.25 in early afternoon trading.

Three South Florida businessmen charged in vending machine scam

MIAMI — Three South Florida businessmen face criminal fraud charges as the result of  a scheme to sell DVD vending machines to would-be entrepreneurs.

A federal grand jury has indicted Anthony Rocco Andreoni, 47, of Hollywood, with conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering in connection with his involvement in American Entertainment Distributors Inc. MORE.

Jury finds Miami pharmacy owner guilty in Medicare billing scam

MIAMI — A Miami pharmacy owner faces 30 years in prison after a federal jury found him guilty of Medicare fraud.

The jury found Nelson Valdes, owner of Florida Pharmacy and Discount and F&M Medical Rentals,  guilty of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government, to submit false claims to Medicare, and to receive kickbacks; conspiracy to commit health care fraud; and three counts of receiving kickbacks in exchange for referring patients to co-conspirator pharmacies. He is cheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 26 by federal Judge Cecilia Altonaga.

Valdes, working with another pharmacy and a medical billing firm, paid Medicare patients for the use of their insurance card. They’d then bill Medicare for drugs and medical equipment that the patient didn’t need nor received.

Valdes collected $3 million over three years from Medicare. Prosecutors produced evidence that Valdes continued the scam even after his arraignment.

FPL Energy signs deal with Boca firm to develop ethanol plant

JUNO BEACH — FPL Energy LLC, a subsidiary of FPL Group said Thursday that it has signed a letter of intent with Citrus Energy LLC, of Boca Raton to develop the first ever commercial scale citrus peel to ethanol plant.

The ethanol plant will be owned and operated by FPL Energy and is expected to produce four million gallons of ethanol a year. It will be built on the grounds of a local Florida citrus processor.

“FPL Energy is delighted to be working with Citrus Energy on this exciting new project to produce a clean, affordable, and domestically-produced biofuel utilizing Florida’s existing citrus industry infrastructure and bringing new jobs to rural communities,” FPL Senior Vice President Mike O’Sullivan said.

“Citrus Energy’s mission is to develop fuel ethanol that minimizes environmental impact and cost by using citrus waste and other biomass. FPL Energy, as the largest renewable energy generator in the U.S., is the ideal partner,” said David Stewart, president of Citrus Energy.

FPL Energy said that ethanol from citrus peel could create in a new  industry producing over 60 million gallons of fuel per year, which could replace about one percent of Florida’s annual gasoline consumption.


Cross Country Healthcare Inc. completes Assent Consulting deal

BOCA RATON — Cross Country Healthcare Inc. said Wednesday that it has completed the deal $19.6 million deal for privately-held Assent Consulting.Headquartered in Cupertino, Calif.,  Assent Consulting primarily provides clinical research, biostatistics and drug safety workers pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. In 2006, Assent Consulting had revenue of $13.2 million and adjusted EBITDA of $2.6 million.

Citrix Systems reports gains in second quarter revenue

FORT LAUDERDALE — Citrix System Wednesday reported second quarter revenue of $334 million, compared with $275 million for the same period a year ago.Total cost of revenue and operating expenses — which include cost of product license and services revenues, research and development, sales, marketing and support, general and administrative and amortization of intangible assets was about $268 million.The company did not report net numbers because of an ongoing investigtion into stock option grants to company employees and directors.“I’m very pleased with our second quarter results,” said CEO Mark Templeton. “We capped a great first half of the year with record $334 million of revenue in the second quarter, and $642 million for the first half — growing 21 percent and 20 percent, respectively.”“The combination of our results, strong market traction, and the relevancy of Application Delivery Infrastructure to our customers, fuels my optimism for the rest of the year.”

CFO Sink: Ending no-fault could have 'enormous consequences'

TALLAHASSEE — Florida CFO Alex Sink, in a letter to Gov. Charlie Crist and legislative leaders, said the consequences of letting the state’s no-fault insurance law expire are many and should be weighed carefully.The law, which requires all auto owners to have personal injury protection coverage, commonly called PIP, is set to expire on Oct. 1. MORE.


Three more defendants in Mutual Beneftis scam plead guilty

MIAMI — Three more defendants involved in the billion-dollar Mutual Benefits Corp. viatical scam face prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy charges in federal district court.

Raquel Kohler, Ameer Khan and Stephen Ziegler each face a maximum of 5 years in prison and payment of hundreds of millions of dollars in restitution for their part in the scam. All three are set for sentencing on Sept. 25.Kohler was chief financial officer at Mutual Benefits, a Fort Lauderdale company that sold viatical investments.Khan was president of Viatical Services, which worked with Mutual Benefits, while Ziegler was an attorney that represented the company on business and regulatory matters.Viatical companies buy life insurance policies of the terminally ill; when the policyholder dies, the company collects. While viaticals are legitimate investments, Mutual Benefits was nothing more than a huge scam that took investors, many who are elderly, for nearly $1 billion.

tax reform measure

ORLANDO — The Florida Association of Realtors has pledged up to $1 million to support passage of a ballot measure aimed at reforming the state’s property taxes.

Early next year, Florida residents will vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that would change the way homes are assessed. The measure would create a so-called super homestead exemption that would replace the Save Our Homes system now in place. MORE.

cements Rinker deal

WEST PALM BEACH — Cemex S.A., the Mexican concrete giant, has bought 95.62 percent of Rinker Group shares as a result of a tender offer made in March. Rinker is the Australian parent of Rinker Materials of West Palm Beach. Under Australian law, remaining shareholders must sell to Cemex.

Cross Country buys staffing firm

BOCA RATON — Cross Country Healthcare Inc. said Friday that has agreed to buy privately-held Assent Consulting for $19.6 million in cash.

The deal could cost Cross Country $4.9 million more, depending on how the company performs this year and next. The deal is expected to close within 30 days.

Headquartered in Cupertino, Calif., Assent Consulting primarily provides clinical research, biostatistics and drug safety workers drug and biotech companies. Assent Consulting had 2006 revenue of $13.2 million and adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of $2.6 million.

Cross Country will finance the deal with its line of credit. It expects Assent to add modestly to earnings this year.


Water district lifts restrictions

WEST PALM BEACH — The South Florida Water Management District on Wednesday lifted phase III watering restrictions for most of Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Homeowners still will be limited to watering two days a week but other restrictions are lifted.


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