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"I'm spending my own money on this campaign. The two parties are spending your money, taxpayer money."--Ross Perot in 1992. This year, he's accepting $29.1 million in federal fundingEDITED BY LARRY LIGHTReturn to top

WHY COUNTERFEIT GOODS MAY KILL

THE FBI IS PROBING WHETHER profits from counterfeit T-shirts and sports apparel in New York City were diverted to finance the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (estimated cost: $10,000). That's from an FBI agent and three other law-enforcement figures familiar with the case.

Since the bombing, the FBI's Joint Terrorist Task Force, working with the New York Police Dept.'s Organized Crime Investigation Div., has raided Manhattan and Bronx buildings it suspects counterfeiters used as warehouses and print shops. Counterfeiting is a "standard way" terrorists raise money, says expert Yonah Alexander. A recent raid yielded a lot of counterfeit sports apparel, some with Nike and Olympics logos--and a pistol hidden in an airconditioning duct.

The FBI, say the sources, has a list of some 20 alleged counterfeiters with suspected links to Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind Egyptian cleric serving a life term without parole for conspiring to carry out a bombing campaign. The sheikh has no counterfeiting connection, says his lawyer.

It's unclear who, if anyone, was arrested in the raids. The sources say the FBI has followed a financial trail--and believes a well-heeled group was behind the plot. The FBI and the city police declined commentEDITED BY LARRY LIGHT By Willy SternReturn to top

A NEW FRONT IN THE BLUE-JEAN WARS

RALPH LAUREN IS OPENING his own stores to sell his new blue jeans--eight Polo Jean shops within the next year in major cities, including New York and Los Angeles, says a well-placed Lauren exec. Future plans: expand to become a significant retail chain, also selling other casual duds.

Competitors are uneasy. "Ralph will go all out," says a worried rival. The fashion designer's privately held company has deep pockets and savvy marketing sense, analysts say. Brand-name stores, notably Gap (802 U.S. outlets) and, more recently, Levi Strauss (25 and growing), control 38.1% of the healthy, $6.6 billion jeans market.

The stores for Polo jeans (midrange price: $48) are one way Lauren aims to get closer to the public to gauge tastes. Three years ago, he launched his overpriced ($70) RRL line, which flopped. A Lauren spokeswoman says that she knows nothing of the store plans.EDITED BY LARRY LIGHT By Andrew Ross SorkinReturn to top

IS THREE A CROWD AT THE DEBATES?

EVER VOLUBLE ROSS PEROT may not get a word in edgewise in the '96 Presidential debates. The debate-organizing commission is seriously considering barring the Reform Party standard-bearer.

Reason: Some polls have his support at below the 10% guideline that the commission believes shows viability with voters. If Perot doesn't boost his numbers out of the single digits over the next month, one commission insider says, he's in danger of being sidelined for the four-debate series, which starts Sept. 25.

That would be peachy with the Bob Dole camp, which fears that the billionaire populist cuts mostly into GOP votes. Democrats are more ambivalent, though they like the idea of two opponents splitting the anti-incumbent vote. As for Perot, excluding a candidate who got 19% of 1992's vote is "inconceivable," says top aide Russell Verney.EDITED BY LARRY LIGHT By Richard A. Melcher and Richard S. DunhamReturn to top


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