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Average IRS refund this year about $3k, chief says

WASHINGTON (AP) — That nice Internal Revenue Service refund check many families eagerly await this time of year is down slightly from 2011 but still not too shabby: an average of about $3,000.

Through March 10, the IRS has issued 59.2 million refund checks totaling $174.4 billion, agency chief Douglas H. Shulman told a House subcommittee Thursday. That compares to 59 million refunds totaling $178.3 billion a year ago.

Based on those figures, this year's checks average $2,946, down marginally from last year's $3,022.

An IRS spokesman said the agency isn't certain why the figure has dipped. He noted that the widely used Making Work Pay tax credit created by the 2009 economic stimulus law had expired and another credit for first-time homebuyers has been restricted.

Nearly 26 million filers prepared their own electronic returns, an 11 percent jump from 2011.

HP increasing its quarterly dividend

PALO ALTO (AP) - The world's No. 1 maker of personal computers said in a regulatory document Friday that the increase will take effect in May when it officially declares its next dividend.

The Palo Alto, Calif., company's current dividend of 12 cents per share to be paid in April will remain the same. A 10 percent increase would mean its new dividend is 13.2 cents per share.

HP announced a number of changes this week, including combing its printer and PC divisions as it tries to improve profits, invest in growing areas and re-establish itself as a technology trailblazer.

Calif. exec pleads guilty to tomato price-fixing
SACRAMENTO  (AP) — A former California food company owner pleaded guilty to racketeering Thursday in a tomato price-fixing plot that authorities said drove up costs to consumers across the nation.

Frederick Scott Salyer, 56, was charged with bribing purchasing managers at food giants including Kraft Foods Inc. and Frito-Lay to buy tomato products from his company, Monterey-based SK Foods. Prosecutors said he and his co-conspirators fixed prices and rigged bids for the sale of tomato products to McCain Foods USA Inc., ConAgra Foods Inc. and Kraft.

Salyer pleaded guilty in federal court in Sacramento to two charges: racketeering and price fixing. Racketeering carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence and price-fixing 10 years, although under a plea agreement Salyer is expected to face four to seven years behind bars. He remains under house arrest at his Pebble Beach estate on $6 million bail until his sentencing, which is scheduled for July 10.

Salyer and his lawyer, Malcolm Segal, declined to comment outside the courtroom.

Salyer was accused of being at the center of price-fixing ring that helped SK Foods capture 14 percent of the processed tomato market and rise to the second largest tomato processor in the state before investigators raided the company in 2008.

He also admitted that SK Foods routinely falsified lab test results for its tomato paste and that he ordered former employees to falsify information including the product's mold content, production date and whether it qualified as "organic," the U.S. attorney's office said.