SEC Expands Probe of Taser

Taser International, the world's biggest maker of stun guns, said the Securities and Exchange Commission upgraded its inquiry into the company to an investigation and expanded the probe to look at possible stock manipulation and whether individuals outside the company were able to obtain material nonpublic information.

The SEC said in January it was probing Taser's safety claims for its stun guns and the booking of a year-end order. Expanding that inquiry into a formal investigation gives the SEC subpoena power. Taser President Thomas Smith said the company has not received a subpoena and has cooperated with the SEC.


Amtrak Modifies Fare Increases

Amtrak said ticket prices nationwide would increase an average of $3 to $4 starting Tuesday, saying the increases are important to covering increases in expenses, including fuel costs. Acela Express and long-distance coach train fares will rise 7 percent, while regional and long-distance sleeper train fares will rise 5 percent.

Starting Oct. 16, Northeast Corridor commuters with monthly passes will have their discount reduced from 70 percent to 60 percent, and then to 50 percent in February. For Smart Pass 10-trip ticket holders whose fares are discounted 50 to 60 percent, the discount will be dropped to 20 percent starting Oct. 16.


DreamWorks Ends NBC Talks

DreamWorks ended talks on what could have been a $1 billion acquisition deal by NBC Universal during disagreements about price and creative control, DreamWorks co-founder David Geffen said. The deal would have given Universal control of DreamWorks' live-action film studio, including its 60-title library, as well as a pipeline to new films by the ever-popular Spielberg.

DreamWorks SKG, which includes Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg among its founders, had granted NBC Universal an exclusive two-month negotiating period that was set to expire on Friday. Both sides previously expressed optimism about the deal that fell apart.

Geffen declined to elaborate on what creative issues were under discussion. Negotiations with Universal could eventually resume, but DreamWorks is now free to consider other offers.


WellPoint Buys N.Y. Insurer

WellPoint of Indianapolis acquired WellChoice of New York in a deal valued at $6.5 billion in cash and stock. WellPoint, the nation's largest health insurer, will gain 5 million new customers as it moves into the New York area. Together, WellPoint and WellChoice will serve more than 33 million members in 14 states.

Better known as Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, WellChoice is the largest health insurer in New York state. Previously a nonprofit, it converted to a for-profit venture in 2002 and went public. It is the last independent, publicly traded, for-profit Blue Cross plan in the country.

The companies said they expected the transaction to close during the first quarter of 2006 pending stockholder backing and approvals by New York, New Jersey and federal regulators.

Marsh Clients Opt to Settle

Marsh & McLennan, the world's largest insurance broker, said 70,000 clients, including 90 percent of its biggest customers, agreed to participate in an $850 million settlement of bid-rigging accusations, reached in January with New York Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer. The participants will exhaust $750 million of the settlement money and must waive their right to sue to get the funds. About 140,000 clients nationwide could have opted in to accept the restitution, company spokeswoman Barbara Perlmutter said.


Freezers Carry Risk of Shock

W.C. Wood has recalled 112,000 freezers and refrigerators because the defrost heater coil can become exposed, risking electrical shock. The products are the 15-, 17- and 20-cubic-foot Automatic Defrost Upright Freezers and 17-cubic-foot Automatic Defrost All-Refrigerators, sold under the brand names Amana, Crosley, Danby, Maytag, Whirlpool or Wood's.


LaBranche Sued by EEOC

LaBranche, the largest market-maker on the New York Stock Exchange, forced a manic-depressive employee to quit after he complained about workplace bias, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in a lawsuit. The agency said it filed suit after failing to reach a voluntary settlement with LaBranche.

LaBranche spokesman Brian Maddox said the firm's policy is not to comment "on personnel matters."

The suit claims LaBranche violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by subjecting employee Peter Servidio to a "hostile work environment," saying co-workers and supervisors frequently teased him about his disability and medication. The firm retaliated against him when he complained and forced him to quit, the agency said.

Pepsi Bottling Group said third-quarter profit rose 7.3 percent, to $205 million, from $191 million in the comparable quarter a year earlier, on U.S. sales of Aquafina water and Tropicana juices and European sales of soft drinks. Sales in the quarter ended Sept. 3 jumped 9.5 percent, to $3.21 billion.

Compiled from staff and news service reports.