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VCU President Gets Paycheck From Tobacco Company



Eugene Trani's connection to the tobacco industry runs deep.

The New York Times reported last week that Virginia Commonwealth University inked a controversial research deal with Philip Morris USA in 2006. The deal prohibits researchers at the public university from publishing their findings without a longer-than-usual review process from the company. Between the restricted contract and other moneys, Philip Morris gave $1.3 million to VCU last year.

But Trani, VCU's president, has gotten more from the tobacco industry than a million bucks. In fact, Trani is the tobacco industry.

As a member of the board of directors of Universal Corp., Trani receives an annual retainer of $40,000, including stock options. He also receives a fee of $2,000 for each board of directors' meeting he attends and another $1,500 for attending committee meetings.

Based in Richmond, Universal Corp. is a leaf tobacco merchant and processor. The company's Web site describes its operations as "selecting, buying, shipping, processing, packing, storing, and financing of leaf tobacco in tobacco growing countries for sale … throughout the world."

Though it does not manufacture cigarettes, the Web site says "the Company's revenues are derived from sales of processed tobacco and from fees and commissions for specific services."

"I don't see any connection between these two," university spokeswoman Pam Lepley says. "And his being on the board doesn't really pertain to the university."

As for Philip Morris contract, Lepley says it's a logical agreement since the university research would start from proprietary Philip Morris information. News of the contract, however, has raised questions about the ethics of such an arrangement.

A representative for Universal directed all inquiries about Trani's involvement to the company's official corporate filings. On May 22, the day the story about VCU's involvement with Philip Morris broke, Universal's stock was trading at $61.44 a share.

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