Nation digest 05/20/03

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Leading economic indicators up only slightly

NEW YORK -- A widely watched gauge of the U.S. economy Monday gave little evidence of the postwar bounce many had been hoping for.

The New York-based Conference Board said Monday that its Index of Leading Economic Indicators rose a slight 0.1 point in April to 110.6.

The index, which attempts to measure where the economy is headed in the next three to six months, had fallen 0.2 points in March and 0.5 points in February.

Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein said the index suggested that the country's gross domestic product will increase at an annual rate of 1.5 percent in the second quarter, about the same as the last two quarters.

WorldCom agrees to pay investors $500 million

NEW YORK -- WorldCom Inc., the long-distance giant accused of falsifying its books by $11 billion in the biggest accounting scandal in U.S. history, agreed Monday to pay investors $500 million to settle civil fraud charges.

The fine would be one of the largest the Securities and Exchange Commission has ever imposed. The settlement was presented to U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff, who said he would not rule before June 11.

The settlement actually calls for WorldCom to be fined $1.51 billion, an amount that would be reduced to $500 million as part of the company's Chapter 11 bankruptcy case.

WorldCom was accused of misleading investors by falsifying its books to hide expenses and inflate earnings. The SEC and WorldCom had been negotiating for months.

Prank leads to fear of explosives on truck

McLEAN, Va. -- A motorist playing a prank that appeared to be inspired by the movie "Speed" led a trucker to believe he was carrying explosives Monday on a major highway outside Washington.

The trucker was driving on the Capital Beltway when he "had people pull up next to him and tell him that if his truck slowed below a certain speed the truck would explode," said Sgt. J.R. Braun of the Virginia State Police.

The driver called 911, and police directed him onto the more secluded George Washington Memorial Parkway, where trucks are normally banned.

The parkway was closed for three hours while authorities searched the tractor-trailer. No explosives were found and no charges were filed.

In the movie "Speed," a bus is rigged to explode if it goes below 50 mph.

Ex-girlfriend ready to testify in Peterson trial

LOS ANGELES -- The massage therapist who revealed she had a relationship with Scott Peterson said Monday she is prepared to testify at his trial on charges of killing his pregnant wife and their unborn child.

Amber Frey, 28, also said she has been hounded by news media and tabloids offering her money for her story ever since she came forward about a month after Laci Peterson disappeared.

Frey has said she did not know Scott Peterson was married when she met him in November.

Scott Peterson was arrested last month after the bodies of his wife and baby washed ashore a few miles from where he says he was fishing when his wife disappeared in December. He has pleaded innocent and is jailed without bail.

-- From wire reports

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