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Office Depot sends check for almost $60,000 to Clearwater

CLEARWATER — It's not every day that someone sends the city a check for $60,000.

Actually, the check that Clearwater just got is for $59,999.96.

Clearwater has settled with Office Depot after the city accused the retail giant of overbilling it for office supplies. It was part of a wave of governments around Florida and the country that accused the company of using bait-and-switch tactics in government purchasing contracts.

The Florida Attorney General's Office, which investigated Office Depot for nearly two years, recently settled with the Boca Raton-based company for $4.5 million worth of refunds for various state agencies.

"We are pleased to have received the payment regarding the Office Depot pricing matter. It puts an end to this issue," said Clearwater's auditor, Robin Gomez, who oversaw the city's investigation. "Hopefully going forward, we'll continue to have a pleasant relationship with Office Depot. We'll ensure that it and other vendors we do business with are complying with established, agreed-upon prices."

Clearwater was the first government in the Tampa Bay area to take action against Office Depot, which sells a lot of pens, paper and printer cartridges to cities, counties and schools in this region.

Clearwater reviewed the purchases it had made from the company and determined that it had been overcharged due to different pricing schemes, Gomez said.

The city initially demanded a $166,000 refund. Office Depot fired back, saying the audit was "replete with inaccurate, misinformed and inappropriate statements."

After a series of negotiations, the two sides settled on a $60,000 refund.

Florida governments began investigating Office Depot a couple of years ago due to the efforts of a Fort Myers whistle-blower named David Sherwin, who used to be the company's manager of government accounts for Southwest Florida.

He accused the Fortune 500 company of duping governments, charging them steeper prices and hiding it with a complicated array of pricing plans, jargon and accounting tricks.

Office Depot has steadfastly denied that its pricing practices are fraudulent. In several other cases, the company has returned money to governments, paying a total of $130,000 to agencies in Fort Myers and Naples. But it says these payments aren't refunds, but are instead a gesture of goodwill.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

Office Depot sends check for almost $60,000 to Clearwater 01/13/11 [Last modified: Thursday, January 13, 2011 7:58pm]
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