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Marriage next on couple's docket

To most observers, the trial of four Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. executives last summer was long and tedious.

But at least two of the people involved found something of mutual interest. Kathleen A. Haley, assistant U.S. attorney, and Joe Ford, FBI special agent on the case, began dating immediately after the trial. They'll be married in November.

It's a first marriage for Ford, 43, who heads the health care unit at the FBI's Tampa office. Haley, 47, finalized the divorce from her first husband during the Columbia trial.

Ford said preparation for the lengthy trial, which resulted in the conviction of two defendants on Medicare fraud, meant he, Haley and the rest of the government team, worked closely for months, seven days a week, at least 12 hours a day. "And during the first week of the trial, it was more like 20 hours a day," he said.

Haley, who has known Ford for years, said she asked him out. "He'd been a good friend and I figured, "What have I got to lose?' " she said. Neither she nor Ford would comment on honeymoon plans, though it's a safe bet they won't be visiting the Grand Ole Opry in Columbia's hometown of Nashville, Tenn.

_ KRIS HUNDLEY

Toups takes a radically different name

On Tuesday, the artist formerly known as Prince said he will be known again as Prince. The same week, Largo's Toups Technology Licensing said it was changing its name to EarthFirst Technologies Inc.

Coincidence?

Toups, named for founder Leon Toups, decided its fate is better served with a new name with an enviro-friendly theme. The small company devises unusual technologies that purportedly help make energy or find oil in more ecologically responsible ways. One process is supposed to consume liquid wastes by flowing them through an underwater electrical arc while producing a non-polluting combustible gas.

The EarthFirst name is the brainchild of Toups' new chief executive, John Stanton, who also joined the company last week. Stanton owned the EarthFirst name and convinced the Toups board that a name change made marketing sense.

It so happens that EarthFirst shares its new name with Oregon-based Earth First. That's the "radical conservation journal" that documents global protests against loggers and utilities, among others, and whose motto is "No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth."

No word on whether the company formerly known as Toups is a subscriber. But the company does plan to change its Over The Counter ticker symbol (now TOUP.OB) to reflect its new name.

_ ROBERT TRIGAUX

First Diller rebuffed, now Terra Networks

Did a year make all that much difference? Last May, Barry Diller, chief of USA Networks and its subsidiary Home Shopping Network in St. Petersburg, was throwing in the towel on a planned merger with Internet portal Lycos Inc.

Nobody seemed to like Diller's plan to combine Lycos' online properties and content with the broadcast strength of Diller's USA cable channel and HSN. Investors, crabby over what they considered a weak premium, dumped their Lycos shares and sent the stock down 30 percent in a month.

The Diller-Lycos deal died after David Wetherell, whose Internet investment firm CMGI held a big stake in Lycos, said the deal was undervalued and hired a firm to look for a new buyer.

Diller's 1999 deal for Lycos initially was valued at about $6-billion.

Last week, Spanish Internet group Terra Networks SA agreed to buy Lycos. This time around the price was a heftier $12.5-billion in Terra stock.

No matter. Wall Street again panned the deal, for different reasons. Lycos shares dropped 21 percent Wednesday after the deal was unveiled. Company shares have bounced back a bit since then. But analysts still express concern about the deal because Terra's stock is considered overpriced and U.S. investors are wary of owning foreign stocks.

That's small consolation for the still-looking-for-an-empire-to-build Diller.

_ ROBERT TRIGAUX

Not making green by being green

Sterile Recoveries Inc. thought it had a no-brainer business proposition: It would supply hospitals with reusable gowns for the operating suite, pick up the dirty stuff and haul it away, all for about the same price as disposable gowns. A better product with no fuss and less waste _ who could lose?

But the companies selling disposable gowns to hospitals responded by undercutting Sterile Recoveries' prices. The Clearwater company, which built a chain of 11 specialized laundries nationwide, was forced to match competitors' pricing and watch margins shrink.

Richard Isel, co-founder and chief executive of Sterile Recoveries, said the experience taught him one thing. Despite the lip service given to cutting waste and saving the environment, he said, "People won't pay an extra nickel to be environmentally friendly."

_ KRIS HUNDLEY

Celebrating legislative session's outcome

How's this for confidence?

Six weeks before the Florida Legislature's session ended, the Florida Chamber of Commerce commissioned the artwork for an end-of-session brochure to be sent to 10,000 members.

The headline blared "VICTORY at the Capitol," with a businessman thrusting his fists in the air, a la Rocky Balboa.

"We were sweating it out a bit at the end of the session," said Steve Liner, the chamber's vice president of communications. "But we felt confident enough earlier to get the art going."

The confidence proved well-placed. The Legislature passed transportation and work force initiatives backed by the chamber. And it killed legislation that would have allowed patients to sue HMOs, a move applauded by business lobbyists.

The chamber will hold post-session briefings across the state next month, so the registration brochure had to be sent just as the session ended two weeks ago. The local presentation is June 14 at the Tampa Airport Marriott.

And who is the Rocky-type guy on the brochure?

"We bought the image. It's no one you'd recognize, on purpose," Liner said. "It wouldn't be cool to show a lobbyist like Wade Hopping, you know."

Hopping specializes in representing businesses that want the government to leave them alone, such as developers, utilities and mining companies.

He's controversial, to say the least: A Sierra Club lobbyist calls him "Darth Vader."

_ KYLE PARKS

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