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Maybe it should read its own report

J.K. Harris & Co. advertises what it calls an "insider" report on "How to End IRS Problems Forever." Turns out it might be able to use some of its own advice. The tax resolution service, which has three offices in the Tampa Bay area, is the subject of an IRS investigation.

Federal agents raided the company's Charleston, S.C., headquarters in July and hauled off a truckload of records. Founder and president John K. Harris said the company got its active files back in two days but he expects the investigation to take six to 12 months. He said he is confident the company will be found innocent of any wrongdoing. The feds declined comment.

It's no surprise that J.K. Harris attracted the IRS' attention. Founded just three years ago, the company has 380 offices in 32 states. Its specialty is helping small business people settle tax debts through the IRS' "offers in compromise" program.

The company's Web site features anonymous testimonials from people who got the IRS off their backs by paying as little as 2 to 5 cents on the dollar. Chris Westphal, who manages the company's Tampa Bay offices, says settlements of 10 to 20 cents on the dollar are more typical.

"We're here to help this segment that can't afford high-priced tax attorneys," he said. "But they make enough money so that they're pursued rather aggressively by the IRS."

_ HELEN HUNTLEY

Corporations investing in Election 2000

In the presidential race for corporate campaign contributions, George W. Bush is raking in the dough while Al Gore follows at a distant No. 2.

No surprise there. U.S. corporations overwhelmingly prefer Republican candidates. And Bush is enjoying the traditional double-dip: more companies are giving more money (via PACs and by individual employees) to his campaign in this 1999-2000 election cycle than to his Democratic challenger.

Consider Dubya's top 10 corporate contributions, as of Aug. 3, compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Total tally: $1.5-million. Among the heavyweight corporate givers: MBNA America (credit cards), Houston law firms Vinson & Elkins and Baker & Botts (where James Baker, former secretary of state under President Bush, works), Merrill Lynch and Houston energy/communications giant Enron Corp.

Gore's top 10 corporate tally adds up to a more modest $799,020. His top contributors include Ernst & Young, Citigroup, entertainment giants Viacom and Time Warner, and BellSouth.

Even banking giant Bank of America, built and led by Democrat Hugh McColl, contributed heavily ($104,000) to Bush and relatively little to Gore.

Gore wins at least one comparison with Bush's money machine. Among each of the candidates' top 10 corporate givers, Gore boasts the only Florida-based business. Tampa's Holland & Knight, one of the nation's largest law firms, gave $49,150 to the Gore campaign.

_ ROBERT TRIGAUX

Tradex payoff larger than expected

If you thought Daniel Aegerter and his colleagues struck it rich back in December when they sold Tradex to California software manufacturer Ariba Inc. for $1.9-billion, check out the latest developments in their saga.

The Swiss-born entrepreneur, his partners and investors, who moved their company from Tampa to Atlanta shortly before the sale, originally negotiated for 19-million shares of Ariba's stock at $61 a share. But Ariba offered a 2-for-1 stock split on March 2, six days before the Tradex acquisition closed. As a result, Tradex shareholders ultimately wound up with 34-million Ariba shares.

Those shares closed Thursday at $161.56. Presuming they hung on to most of their shares, that means Tradex former owners are worth approximately $5.5-billion.

_ MICHAEL BRAGA

FSU's cancer fighter is a moneymaker

Florida State University has found a moneymaking machine: the popular anticancer drug Taxol.

The institution recently was ranked third in the nation in licensing income, with $46.6-million in 1998 from lucrative research patents. The biggest contributor among FSU's 10 licensing deals was Taxol, which the university has licensed exclusively to Bristol-Myers Squibb. In 1998, FSU earned $45-million from the cancer drug Developed by chemistry professor Robert Holton. In 1999, Taxol earnings were expected to top $60-million.

The only colleges reaping more from technology transfer are the University of California system, with $73-million, and Columbia University, with $62-million.

John Fraser, FSU's director of technology transfer, says that if Florida universities reported as a group, as California's do, they might land at the top of the list. University of Florida was ninth in the rankings, with 1998 license revenues of $19-million.

FSU's license for Taxol is good until 2011 and Fraser said it's unlikely that another discovery will match Taxol's moneymaking ability.

"Fundamentally, we're a one-horse operation and that horse is called Taxol," he said. "Our other horses are obviously much smaller, but they're there and they're growing."

_ KRIS HUNDLEY

No accounting for bank's top honors

Florida, a banking colony hardly known as a bastion for the best in the industry, can boast the best-performing bank in the country.

Well, sort of.

BFC Financial Corp., the holding company for Fort Lauderdale's BankAtlantic, had the best return on assets in the second quarter among publicly traded banking companies, trade publication American Banker noted in a Top 100 list released last week.

The list, based on information from Sheshunoff Information Services, cited BFC's astounding 5.56 percent return on assets of $97-million. No. 2 MBNA Corp. of Wilmington, Del., wasn't even close with a 3.61 percent return.

BFC executives had a singular response when told of the honor: "Huh??"

Turns out the data is a bit skewed. Since it holds just under 50 percent of BankAtlantic stock, BFC does not include all the bank's assets in its financial reporting even though it includes the bank's earnings.

"It's an accounting situation. .

.

. It really is somewhat misleading to have us with publicly traded banks," BFC chief financial officer Glen Gilbert said. "But it's definitely an honor."

The rest of the state didn't fare as well.

Only one other Florida bank made the list. Hamilton Bancorp, a $1.7-billion bank in Miami, squeezed into the middle of the group at No. 42.

None of the biggest out-of-state players in Florida _ Bank of America, First Union and SunTrust _ made the cut.

_ JEFF HARRINGTON

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