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Poll results mixed for industry

Now that the votes for the midterm 2006 elections have been counted, how did insurance industry-backed candidates for U.S. House and Senate do?

According to data compiled by the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics from Federal Election Commission filings, the answer is, so-so at best.

Of the top 10 recipients of insurance industry contributions, only five won election last week.

Law firms, on the other hand, fared far better. Nine of their 10 top recipients won.

The sole loser among lawyers' picks was Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., who ranked No. 9 in legal industry financial support and No. 1 in contributions received from the insurance industry.

He was one of only two candidates that both industries gave strong support.

The other candidate to appear on both top 10 lists-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.-easily won another term in office.

Adding value to communication gets everyone on same page

Bosses may want to start "thinking outside the box" and find new ways to communicate with employees, based on the results of a recent survey.

The survey-conducted by London-based market research firm YouGov P.L.C.-culled responses from more than 2,900 working adults and found that more than half of workers in the United Kingdom and Ireland are fed up with officespeak.

Fifty-four percent of employees reported that management jargon is a problem in their workplace, while 60% percent surveyed said they want on-the-job phrases such as "reinventing the wheel," "pushing the envelope," "off the shelf" and "top down" to disappear altogether.

In addition, 37% of workers polled said they think use of such phrases results in mistrust in the workplace and makes people feel inadequate, while 42% of employees believe that such language can spark misunderstandings about workers' roles and responsibilities.

Whether management will curtail the use of jargon remains to be seen; more than half-55%-of senior managers surveyed said they think it's harmless.

Dirty dealings on mold

A Georgia plaintiffs attorney found a way to use his expertise in the relatively new field of mold liability litigation to make money in a very old-fashioned way-through fraud.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Georgia in Atlanta, Charles Femery Peebles would represent plaintiffs in suits alleging physical injury and property damage from mold infestations. Mr. Peebles would then settle the cases without telling his clients, forge their signatures on the settlement checks and use the money for his own purposes-which happened to include paying his girlfriend's rent and utilities.

If clients asked about the money, he'd lie to them or, in some cases, pay them with settlement proceeds that belonged to other clients, and he ultimately defrauded clients of about $800,000, prosecutors charged.

But even the best fraud schemes have a tendency to collapse under their own weight and complexity, and Mr. Peebles pleaded guilty last week to one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. He also promised to make full restitution to all of his victims.

Now he's facing a maximum sentence of 22 years in prison as well as a fine of up to $250,000 on each count.

Although no date has been set for sentencing, one thing's for certain-Mr. Peebles won't be handling any more mold litigation, or litigation of any kind for that matter. The Georgia Supreme Court has already disbarred him from the practice of law.

With Segal in the big house, bigger one sold

Preservationists, uneasy over the future of convicted Near North National Group Inc. owner Michael Segal's historic 17-acre estate in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, have withdrawn their objections to its sale.

U.S. District Court Judge Ruben Castillo recently approved the $17.6 million sale of the Prairie-style Tudor Revival mansion to developer Orren Pickell, who plans to develop the site consistent with standards ironed out with the preservationists.

The estate, including a main house and gatehouse designed by architect Howard Van Doren Shaw, with landscaping designed by renowned landscape architect Jens Jensen, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Preservationists, who had objected to the sale, wanted to ensure the Shaw structures and the Jensen landscaping would be preserved in conjunction with the development plan.

The Department of Justice seized Mr. Segal's estate in 2004 when he was convicted on charges of fraud, racketeering and mishandling of more than $30 million in insurance premium trust funds at Near North Insurance Brokerage. The property has been on the market ever since.

Mr. Segal was sentenced to more than 10 years in federal prison late last year.

Cover for another type of natural cat

If livestock farmers in northern Pakistan were compensated for the loss of their herds killed by snow leopards, it would reduce retaliatory killings of the elusive endangered feline.

That's the premise behind a pilot insurance/conservation scheme that Pakistani government officials hope to expand in the country's northern territory, officials said recently.

The program, called Project Snow Leopard, combines ecotourism with insurance. Pakistani entrepreneur Shafqat Hussain established the program in the late 1990s to help the threatened snow leopard in the Himalayan Mountains of Baltistan in northern Pakistan.

Under the program, individual farmers pay a per-head premium for the livestock they own, while Mr. Hussain's ecotourism agency, Full Moon Night Trekking, invests a part of its profits from snow leopard watching expeditions to help pay claims.

According to various reports, a village committee and Project Snow Leopard staff jointly manage the insurance program, which is structured in such a way that villagers monitor each other and have incentives to avoid cheating. Surveys are conducted to ensure villagers abide by their duty not to take retaliatory action against the snow leopard.

Pakistan Environment Minister Malik Amin Aslam said the program has been tested in a small area of the country's snowy north and the government now is looking to see if it can be replicated in a larger area.

Snow leopards are listed as endangered in the World Conservation Union's "Red List of Threatened Species." Estimates of the worldwide snow leopard population range from 3,000 to 10,000 cats, with about 300 living in Pakistan.

In addition to retaliatory killing by locals, snow leopards also are under threat from poachers.