SC business notebook, May 1

May 1, 2013 

Men plead guilty to kickback scheme reaping $500,000

Two men pleaded guilty today in federal court in Columbia to a kickback scheme that resulted in a Palmetto GBA employee reaping more than $500,000 over a five-year period to hire contractors from a Maryland firm, according to U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles. Clayton Sparks, 50, of Lexington – who was a software development manager for BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina subsidiary Palmetto GBA – and Daney Xavier, 49, of Potomac, Md., pleaded guilty to violating the Anti-Kickback Statute and will be sentenced later, Nettles said. Evidence presented at the plea hearing established that Xavier, who owned INSYS, a firm that furnished computer programmers, paid Sparks $585,384 between 2008 and 2012 to hire his contractors. The maximum penalty is a fine of $250,000 and/or 10 years in prison.

Columbia designers finalists in Belk contest

Two Columbia clothing designers, Annabelle LaRoque, owner and designer of LaRoque Studio Boutique on Devine Street, and Heather Menzie Gressette, owner and designer of Eden Blake LLC, have been selected as finalists in Belk’s 2013 Southern Designer Showcase Competition. The two will be among 31 designers presenting their collections to Belk judges in Charlotte on May 22. Winners of the competition will have their designs featured at Belk stores around the country and sold on

Cost of driving in S.C. decreases

The cost of driving in South Carolina is down for the first time in four years. AAA Carolinas announced Tuesday that it will cost the driver of an average sedan about $9,200 to operate their vehicle this year. That’s down from just over $10,000 last year. The operation costs calculated include insurance, maintenance, fuel, taxes, depreciation and finance changes for driving 15,000 miles a year.

Program to hire veterans exceeds goal already

First lady Michelle Obama says companies participating in the Joining Forces program to help veterans find work have hired or trained 290,000 veterans and military spouses, nearly tripling the original goal of the program with about eight months to spare. AT&T is one company that stepped up Tuesday, pledging to hire 5,000 more veterans over five years. The company currently has about 55 job openings in South Carolina. Veterans can go to

Kristy Eppley Rupon, Betsey Guzior and The Associated Press contributed.

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