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Roundup: Chrysler recalls Jeeps; ex-coal official seeks leniency; Smithfield Foods lays off 120; more

| Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Chrysler agrees to recall of Jeeps because of fire risk

Chrysler abruptly agreed to recall 2.7 million older-model Jeeps on Tuesday, reversing a defiant stance and avoiding a possible public relations nightmare over fuel tanks that can rupture and cause fires in rear-end collisions. In deciding on the recall, Chrysler sidestepped a showdown with government safety regulators that could have led to public hearings with witnesses providing details of deadly crashes involving the Jeeps. The dispute ultimately could have landed in court and hurt Chrysler's image and its finances. The company said calls from customers concerned about the safety of their Jeeps played a part in its going along with the government's request.

1 Downtown building sold; 1 may have buyer

Downtown Pittsburgh's strong office market — occupancy is about 90 percent — may have led to the possible sale of two more buildings. Ryan Sciullo, vice president of investment properties with CBRE Inc., said the 15-story Bank Tower, at Wood Street and Fourth Avenue, is under a sales agreement with an investment group from the Erie area and a closing should occur by the end of June. Also, there are reports that the eight-story building at 635-41 Smithfield St., the site of the former Smithfield Café, may have a buyer, but no confirmation has been received by the building's owner, Enterprise Bank. The Bank Tower, owned by BT Property Associates LLC, is about 78 percent leased. Sciullo said he believes the new owner will continue the building as an office, but full details of the future of the building will be released by the new owner once the sale has been completed. Attempts to reach Joseph Fidler, the bank's in-house legal representative, to confirm the possible sale of the Smithfield property were unsuccessful.

Ex-Massey Energy official seeks leniency

A former Massey Energy official who is cooperating in the investigation of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster is asking a judge for leniency when he's sentenced on Aug. 1. Defense attorneys told U.S. District Judge Irene Berger that David Hughart's life has been ruined because he's been unfairly linked to the 2010 explosion that killed 29 men. Hughart pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges, admitting he helped give miners at another Massey subsidiary advance warning about surprise inspections. At his plea hearing in February, Hughart implicated former Chief Executive Don Blankenship in the scheme. Massey is now owned by Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources. Hughart faces up to six years in prison when he is sentenced. Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby says lives were endangered and Berger should consider a stiffer sentence.

Smithfield Foods to lay off 120 more

Smithfield Foods Inc. said Tuesday that it is laying off 120 more workers as part of its previously announced closure of a Virginia facility that makes hot dogs and deli meat. The Smithfield, Va.-based pork producer plans to close the Portsmouth plant in August, said Jeff Gough, Smithfield's senior vice president for human resources. Layoffs at the Smithfield Packing Co. facility began in January, with more than 400 workers to be affected by the time the plant is closed. A $4.72 billion takeover of the company by China's largest meat producer is pending under a deal struck last month with Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd. Smithfield owns the Farmland Foods plant in Arnold, Westmoreland County, where about 180 workers process precooked pork sausage that is distributed across the United States and Canada.

Other business news

• Duke Energy's chief financial officer will take over for retiring CEO Jim Rogers at the end of the month. Lynn Good, 54, has been CFO since 2009. She will also take a seat on the company board. Rogers will retain his board chairman seat until he steps down at the end of the year. Rogers, 65, has been president and CEO at Duke Energy Corp. since 2006. In November, he announced plans to retire from the Charlotte company by the end of 2013 after the contentious takeover of Progress Energy.

• An Exxon Mobil Corp. subsidiary opened its first Appalachian liquid natural gas processing plant in Butler County on Tuesday, the company said in a news release. XTO Energy Inc., the company's gas drilling arm in the region, has a 340-acre plant in Jefferson. The plant will treat about 125 million cubic feet of natural gas a day, separating liquid gases like ethane, propane and butane, which can make more money if sold separately. The plant will employ 15 permanent workers, the company said.

— Staff and wire reports

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