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Spitzer aides' digging on political rival leads to probe by current AG

When he was state attorney general, Eliot Spitzer liked to present himself as a knight in the shiniest of armor. He took on what he called ethically unacceptable practices, most notably in the insurance industry.

Through his investigations such as the payment of contingent commissions, he helped win settlements totaling billions of dollars from some of the biggest names in the industry.

But during recent weeks, New York's Democratic governor has found himself the object of ethics questions. A state investigation by current Attorney General Andrew Cuomo found that some of Gov. Spitzer's closest aides engaged in a smear campaign against the state Senate's Republican leader, Joe Bruno, a longtime political adversary.

The aides in question directed state police to gather information about Sen. Bruno's use of state aircraft that would be potentially damaging to the lawmaker. The investigation, however, cleared Sen. Bruno of any wrongdoing.

Gov. Spitzer has denied having any role in a smear campaign.

Sen. Bruno has called for further investigations to determine whether the governor's aides broke any laws in their political expedition.

While what happens next on the legal front remains far from certain, what does appear certain is that Gov. Spitzer's political armor will be permanently tarnished.

See the world, Hackensack to Cape May

A new Web site is trying to dispel the myth that a career in insurance isn't cool.

Whether it's succeeded is for the kids to decide.

"Somewhere along the way, being an insurance agent got lumped in with lawyers and used car salesmen to become the subject of a lot of barroom jokes," the Web site begins. "We'll let the lawyers and car salesmen stick up for themselves because Project Y is all about insurance."

The site,, was launched recently by the New Jersey chapter of the Young Insurance Professionals, in conjunction with the Professional Insurance Agents of New Jersey trade group. The Project Y site hopes to lure Generation Y twentysomethings into the industry using images of hip young adults and quotes from popular movies such as "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" and TV shows such as "Scrubs."

The site intends to inform Generation Y that joining the insurance industry not only offers diverse job opportunities, it also can be lucrative, educational and a lot of fun "with golf outings and cocktail parties as far as the eye can see."

The site also highlights the travel opportunities that come with joining the industry and, specifically, the New Jersey chapter of the YIP. "You may have the opportunity to travel all over the state," the site boasts.

For whom the (winning) bell tolls

Larry Austin has a few things in common with Ernest Hemingway.

He likes cats, Key West and, according to published reports, "having a good time."

And now, the Palm Harbor, Fla.-based insurance agent has something else in common with Papa Hemingway--his appearance.

Mr. Austin recently won the "27th Annual Hemingway Look-Alike Contest."

Mr. Austin, who sports an impressive white beard, beat 122 other contestants at the event, which is held at Sloppy Joe's bar in Key West to mark the birthday of the famed author. Mr. Austin competed for a decade before winning the ultimate accolade.

Mr. Austin said he's a big Hemingway fan, but isn't a writer himself. Given his affinity for Hemingway, maybe Mr. Austin ought to take a crack at writing.

A little dose of Papa's straightforward prose could go a long way toward making the sometimes murky verbiage of insurance policies a bit clearer.

Thieves milk dairy firms' crate supply

It's become quite fashionable lately to latch onto the green movement. And for some thieves, it's also proved profitable.

These bandits are milking rising oil prices--and creating a loss control problem for some companies--by stealing dairy-owned plastic milk crates and cashing in at recycling centers.

Last year, the thieves snatched up to 20 million of the petroleum-based plastic crates, which have been targeted as a result of steadily climbing oil prices. The material now reportedly fetches 22 cents a pound at recycling centers, up from 7 cents a pound in 2005.

Dairies aren't merely crying over spilled milk here--the thefts cost the industry up to $80 million a year, according to the International Dairy Farmers Assn. California dairies succeeded last September in having a state law passed making it illegal for a plastics recycler to accept plastic milk crates unless proof of ownership is provided. And some companies have hired private investigators to track down milk crate thieves.

IDFA Vp Clay Detlefsen hasn't heard of any insurance companies getting involved yet and wouldn't advise dairy farmers to call them. For one thing, the thefts are haphazard.

"It would be difficult to say, 'Well, I lost 50 cases at the Safeway on Main Street and 22 at the 7-Eleven over here. It's kind of an inexact science, not the sort of thing insurance companies would be able to handle so neatly," Mr. Detlefsen said. And if enough large claims were filed over the matter, overall rates might increase.

"This is really the dark side of recycling," Mr. Detlefsen said.

Contributing: Mark A. Hofmann, Beth Murtagh, Sally Roberts