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ID NEWS: Sara Lee reps kept USF letters in home files

Sara Lee Corp., Chicago, says three salespeople who confirmed inaccurate billing information to U.S. Foodservice (USF), Columbia, MD, kept those letters in home files, not in Sara Lee's computer system, Reuters has reported.

In the letters in question, USF executives reportedly asked the reps to confirm inaccurate information for USF auditors. This may have facilitated any effort that may have been made to inflate USF earnings, Sara Lee said when these actions were disclosed earlier this month (ID web news, 4/7 and 4/8/03). The reps involved have been relieved of their duties but are still on the payroll, pending the outcome of Sara Lee's own investigation.

Because the letters were not in Sara Lee's system, this is why the nationally branded manufacturer did not find the information in its initial internal investigation, said C. Steven McMillan, Sara Lee chairman and coo, during an earnings results conference call with analysts. "Salespeople said they got letters from relatively senior people at U.S. Foodservice, who said, 'I'm sending you his letter. It's not a big deal-could you sign it and send it on' to U.S. Foodservice auditors," McMillan recounted. The reps signed the letters, which was in violation of Sara Lee policy, he added.

USF declined comment on McMillan's remarks but reiterated its cooperation with investigators and an earlier statement that "a small number of trusted employees worked outside our established accounting procedures and betrayed the company."

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