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Boca-Based Office Depot: More Screwed Up Than Dunder Mifflin?

Office supplies giant Office Depot, based in Boca Raton, is the latest major American corporation to get itself in trouble with federal regulators. The company, which claims $14.8 billion in annual sales, is being investigated for improper contact with business analysts. Specifically, representatives of the company allegedly phoned analysts, seeking to manage expectations in advance of a disappointing earnings report, in hopes of heading off a stock drop. It didn't work -- and even if it had, it's a no-no with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which requires that the whole market be informed at the same time of a corporate filing. And that's not the only legal headache.

From page 10 of Office Depot's recent 10K filing:

The SEC is investigating our compliance with Federal securities laws and certain states and federal agencies are investigating our pricing under certain contracts. Although we are cooperating with the governmental agencies in these matters, they may determine that we have violated some laws or regulations.

Regulators have been looking closely at Office Depot at least since July 2007, when an independent review of its accounting turned up other, unrelated violations of securities law. From an article in the South Florida Business Journal.

The review found that during the period beginning in the third quarter of 2006 through the second quarter of 2007, funds due or received from vendors previously recognized in the current quarter should have been deferred into later periods, which led the company to overstate gross profit by $30 million during those quarters.
By now, the company must be getting awfully familiar with federal investigators. In 2005 Office Depot paid the U.S. government $4.75 million to settle a case filed by the Justice Department alleging the company violated U.S. trade policy by selling federal agencies office supplies that came from China, Taiwan and Thailand -- nations excluded by the Buy American Act.

I hope to get a statement Friday from a company spokesman. When / If it arrives, I'll update this post.

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Thomas Francis

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