Missouri investigates Office Depot contract prices

CHICAGO Tue Feb 3, 2009 3:00pm EST

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CHICAGO Feb 3 (Reuters) - Missouri is the latest state investigating whether Office Depot Inc (ODP.N) overcharged agencies that have contracts with the retailer, a spokesman for the state's attorney general's office confirmed on Tuesday.

The spokesman said Attorney General Chris Koster's office was looking into whether Office Depot overcharged government agencies, nonprofit agencies and charitable groups in Missouri.

The Missouri attorney general's office said it recently sent Office Depot a letter demanding some documents.

"While we intend to vigorously defend any allegations of wrongdoing lodged against our company, we will fully cooperate with the Missouri Attorney General's office, as we do in all government and regulatory inquires," Office Depot said in a statement.

Missouri's investigation follows a probe by at least one other state. Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum was investigating the retailer for alleged "bait-and-switch" overcharging.

McCollum's office said Office Depot has been fully cooperating with its investigation, which began in May 2008.

The National Office Products Alliance (NOPA), a trade association for independent office products dealers, said on Tuesday that North Carolina was also investigating the retailer. The North Carolina attorney general's office could not be immediately reached for comment.

NOPA said the annual value of Office Depot's "U.S. Communities" national contract for office and classroom supplies is estimated at $600 million to $700 million.

"NOPA continues to advocate for more, not less, competition that includes independent small businesses in our industry, with consistent multiple contract awards to ensure there is ongoing, daily competition for government business," the association's chairman, Bob Chilton, said in a statement.

Office Depot, which is based in Boca Raton, Florida, said in December that it would close 126 stores and lay off about 4.5 percent of its workforce as the economic downturn has cut demand from small businesses and retail customers. At that time, the company also said it would open fewer stores in 2009 than originally planned, close some distribution centers and may restructure or exit businesses. (Reporting by Jessica Wohl, editing by Maureen Bavdek)

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