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Fresh from a $25 billion infusion of taxpayer bailout money, Wells Fargo & Co. is planning a series of corporate junkets to Las Vegas casinos later this month, The Associated Press is reporting.

Wells Fargo has booked 12 nights at the Wynn Las Vegas and its sister hotel, the Encore Las Vegas, beginning Friday, said Wynn spokeswoman Michelle Loosbrock, according to The Associated Press.

The conference is a Wells Fargo tradition. Previous years have included all-expense-paid helicopter rides, wine tasting, horseback riding in Puerto Rico and a private Jimmy Buffett concert in the Bahamas for more than 1,000 employees and guests, The wire service reported.

Details of the Las Vegas junkets for Wells’ officials should raise hackles among the bank’s Carolinas employees, who are wondering about their futures.

Wells acquired Wachovia at the end of 2008 and while company officials haven’t said officially how many jobs will have to be cut, it’s expected to be a sizable number, many of which could be in South and North Carolina.

The nation’s economic downturn has led many of the country’s banks to cut back on festivities this year, including Charlotte-based Bank of America.

San Francisco-based Wells employs more than 20,000 workers in Charlotte, where Wachovia based its operations, according to The Charlotte Observer.

Wells lost $2.83 billion in the fourth quarter, compared with a profit of $1.36 billion in the same period a year ago.

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No matter what your opinion on Olympian Michael Phelps’ apparent marijuana-related indiscretion while in Columbia late last year, it’s disconcerting to see the media-fueled witch-hunt that’s taking place.

By witch-hunt, we refer particularly to the online edition of today’s State newspaper, which features a large photo of Phelps and a headline that reads: “Richland sheriff could charge Phelps,” followed by:

“Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott says he will charge Michael Phelps with a crime if he determines the Olympics hero smoked marijuana in Richland County. What do you know? Send us your photos of Michael Phelps in Columbia. And do you know who took the photo of Phelps smoking marijuana? Do you know where the party was? Click here to email us.”

So, The State is in the business of assisting law enforcement with criminal investigations? This smacks a bit too much of an old-style Communist regime asking its citizens to turn in “enemies of the state.”

This isn’t a murder or rape case, where law enforcement is using the media to seek out witnesses in order to protect citizens by heading off potential acts of future violence. It’s a young man who made an admittedly stupid decision, but one hardly worthy of a media hounding.

Traditionally in a democratic society, the press serves as a watchdog for citizens, keeping tabs on government abuse and excess. Here, however, the press appears to be doing the government’s bidding.

When the press and government are in bed with one another, as appears to be the case here, we’re all the poorer for it. The State has started down a slippery slope; where it ends is hard to predict.

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Investors unfortunate enough to be heavily weighted in South Financial Group stock are probably not much fun to be around right now.

Shares of the Greenville, SC-based financial services company followed up yesterday’s all-time low with yet another record today. TSFG shares, which dropped as low as $1.67 Monday, hit $1.63 in early trading Tuesday.

That compares with a 52-week high of $17.92.

Last week, South Financial announced it lost $319 million during the fourth quarter and $569 million during 2008 as a whole.

South Financial, the parent of Carolina First Bank and Mercantile Bank, has been particularly hurt by the slumping Florida real estate market. It received a $347 million bailout by the US Treasury Department last year.

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The parent company of the Augusta Chronicle has hired a financial institution known for helping companies filing for bankruptcy.

In a recently released statement, Morris Publishing Group, LLC announced the hiring of Lazard Freres & Co. LLC as its financial advisor and Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg, LLP as legal counsel.

William S. Morris III, chairman of Morris Publishing, stated, “These firms will assist us in evaluating our strategic options regarding Morris Publishing’s existing capital structure.”

Morris Publishing is the newspaper publishing arm of Morris Communications Co., one of the oldest newspaper companies in the US.

Morris is based in Augusta and owns 13 daily papers, including Bluffton Today, The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, The Savannah Morning News, and The Athens Banner. It also owns Skirt! magazine.

The newspaper publishing industry has been hard hit by precipitous declines in advertising revenues, along with a steady drop in circulation. A number of papers nationwide have already declared bankruptcy, or threatened to do so.

On a side note, Lazard Freres is the investment banking firm that SC First Lady Jenny Sanford worked for during her days on Wall Street.

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A forerunner of Admiral Nelson’s HMS Victory, lost in the English Channel in 1744 with the loss of more than 1,100 seamen, is believed to have been discovered, a US-based salvage firm is claiming.

Odyssey Marine Exploration is expected to announce on Monday that it has found HMS Victory, the BBC is reporting.

The valuables from the vessel, including brass cannons and gold, could be worth millions of pounds, some experts say.

HMS Victory, built in 1737, has been described by some maritime experts as “the finest ship in the world” at its time. It sank in a fierce storm off the Channel Islands.

The ship’s exact location has since remained a mystery, despite numerous attempts by salvagers to find it.

The vessel had 100 brass cannons and reportedly some 100,000 gold coins on board.

The better-known HMS Victory was built in 1765 and gained fame as Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar. She is the oldest naval ship still in commission.