I'm currently exchanging emails with Nikon support...I have to send them some of my files so that they can take a look at them. In the meantime, Amazon has offered to allow me to return the lens. I've already sent the lens back to Amazon, they should have it tomorrow. I'm going to get my D7000 sent out for a good clean/calibration as soon as I can line up another body (my daughter's first varsity basketball game is tomorrow night)! My camera body is 2 years old, and I have a touch under 29K shutter actuations, so I'm sure I'm due for a clean/check.
I'm going to send the sample photos off to Nikon tech anyway, and see what they think.