Wednesday June 14th, 2006

Skilling asks government to release $60 million in assets...Prosecutors weigh in on losses caused by former Dynegy official...Soaring gasoline prices cause consumer prices to again rise in May...

Jeff Skilling's lawyers have asked the government to release $60 million in assets under its control, pointing to the former Enron CEO's acquittal on insider trading charges connected to the funds. Defense Attorney Daniel Petrocelli filed a motion with U.S. District Judge Sim Lake on Monday requesting the assets be released to Skilling. Skilling owes Petrocelli's firm, Los Angeles-based O'Melveny and Myers, "tens of millions of dollars,'' Petrocelli said. Along with Enron founder Ken Lay, Skilling was convicted in May of lying to investors and employees about Enron's health before the company collapsed into bankruptcy protection in December 2001. Lay and Skilling also asked for their September 11th sentencing date to be delayed by up to 45 days to give the defense team more time to prepare. Lay's attorney Mike Ramsey said the delay is needed to gather witnesses who will be used to address what the judge will consider in sentencing--how much of the $60 billion lost in the collapse of Enron is the fault of Skilling and Lay. A jury convicted Skilling of 19 counts of fraud, conspiracy and lying to auditors. Jurors found Skilling guilty of only one of 10 counts he faced for insider trading. Petrocelli said the profit from that one sale could be forfeited, but very little should be.

Plaintiff's attorneys in the Enron shareholder suit filed papers with U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon alleging Houston law firm Vinson & Elkins helped executives at Enron conduct a massive accounting fraud leading to billions of dollars in investor losses. Investors lead lawyer Bill Lerach says V&E and Enron were "joined at the hip," with more than 600 lawyers having worked on hundreds of transactions over the years. Enron was one of the firm's largest clients, paying more than $160 million in legal fees. A trial in the case is set for October 16th.


Prosecutors say former Dynegy official Jamie Olis cost shareholders more than $104 million--the amount originally estimated--in supporting his 24-year prison sentence. They sent his attorneys a report that says investor losses were higher than the amount used by U.S. District Judge Sim Lake when he sentenced Olis in 2004. A federal appeals court ordered a new sentence in December, saying Lake miscalculated the losses and relied too heavily on federal sentencing guidelines.


Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is financing a new Web site that will investigate stock fraud and corporate wrongdoing. The Dallas billionaire also says he'll buy and sell stocks based on information before the site publishes it. He says he hasn't been a direct victim of fraud--but he was motivated to start the site by his approach to investing. Cuban says he firmly believes that of out more than 10,000 public companies, "the odds are that there are more than just a few crooks and frauds.'' Seventeen-year St. Louis Post-Dispatch staffer Christopher Carey says Sharesleuth.com will launch next month. It'll also carry work from a network of stringers that will include burned investors. Neither Carey nor Cuban would disclose how much he is investing in the site.


Former Teamsters Local 988 president Chuck Crawley pleaded not guilty to charges he rigged a union election, embezzled union funds and made false entries into union records, according to the Houston Chronicle. An indictment accuses Crawley of using the mail to cast 362 phony ballots to get himself re-elected in 2002. He is accused of receiving a $20,000 kickback from the installer of a new telephone system. Trail is set for August 14th before U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon.


Consumer prices posted another substantial gain in May, due largely to soaring gasoline prices. And there's more evidence energy costs are beginning to work their way into the economy-at-large. The Labor Department reports the consumer price index was up four-tenths percent last month, following the surge of six-tenths percent in April. A major factor was the 4.9 percent increase in gasoline prices. So far this year, gas prices are rising at an annual rate of better than 69 percent. The core rate of inflation, which strips out energy and food, was up a bigger-than-expected three-tenths percent. Overall consumer prices are up 4.2 percent from a year ago, while core prices are up 2.4 percent for the same period.


The Federal Emergency Management Agency says that it will extend funding for hurricane evacuees in the City of Houston voucher program until July 31st. That gives evacuees in the emergency shelter program another 15 days to transfer to FEMA individual housing programs with stricter eligibility requirements--or find other options. FEMA's Butch Smith says there's been significant progress toward moving the vast majority of disaster survivors into the agency's longer-term housing program. The agency says more than 500,000 evacuees from last year's Hurricanes Katrina and Rita are already participating in longer-term programs. Alternatives for evacuees who don't quality for the FEMA programs could involve working with faith-based or community voluntary organizations or with other government agencies. FEMA notified Houston officials of the extension in a Friday letter that included updated data on evacuee eligibility.


A survey of Houston-area chief information officers indicates 16 percent plan to hire staff during the quarter, according to the Houston Business Journal, and three percent plan staff reductions, according to a Robert Half International IT Hiring Index and Skills Report. The local results are based on the responses of 200 CIOs from a random sampling of companies in the Houston area with 100 or more employees.


Several Houston companies participated in a business and academic roundtable at Houston Community College to discuss the next generation of IT professionals,ξdiscussing the shortage of technical skills and curriculum that could address the problem. The roundtable is part of IBM's academic initiative to nurture a deeper academic-industry partnership with universities. Participants included the University of Houston, IBM, NEON Enterprise Software, ExxonMobil, the Methodist Hospital System and Texas Instruments.


Chicago-based trading software company Trading Technologies International has set up a Houston office on San Felipe, according to the Houston Business Journal. TTI develops trading software for derivatives professionals. The software provides direct connections to the New York Mercantile Exchange, allowing energy traders to simultaneously view and trade the world's major energy and futures exchanges from one trading screen.


The Fastenal Company has opened its 11th store in the Houston area, according to the Houston Business Journal, on Brittmore Road near Beltway 8. The distributor of industrial and construction supplies offers contractors and industrial suppliers a line of tools and supplies. Minnesota-based Fastenal has almost 10,000 employees in all 50 states, Canada, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Singapore.


The Associated Press reports the mayors of Dallas and Fort Worth are believed to be nearing a deal on the future of Love Field. The leaders delayed a news conference that had been planned for today. Dallas-based Southwest Airlines wants to fly direct to anywhere in the U.S. from close-to-downtown Love Field. Such action would require Congress to change the 1979 Wright Amendment, which limits direct flights to a nearby nine-state area. American Airlines, which calls Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport home, wants the Wright Amendment to stand. AP quotes sources who say the mayors are close to proposing that limits on long-haul flights remain in place for several years, and that Love Field be reduced from 32 gates to 20 gates and that through-ticketing be allowed immediately. That means a person could buy a ticket from Dallas to anywhere in the country, as long as they connected through one of those nine-area states.


The Fort Worth City Council unanimously approved noise restrictions, buffer distances and landscaping requirements on gas wells. While the council approved a buffer of 75 feet between wells and the outer lot lines of subdivisions, the council said a city-appointed task force will meet later to reconsider that distance. "There's a lot more work to be done,'' Mayor Pro Tem Kathleen Hicks said in a story in Wednesday editions of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.


A U.S. House bill has one Texas town hopeful it can convert a military base into the first new U.S. facility in 30 years. The bill aims to make it easier for oil companies to build new refineries. Last year, the Federal Base Closure Commission voted to shut down Texarkana's Lone Star ammunition plant. Bowie County Judge James Carlow says there's easily enough room on the 15,000-acre site to build a safe-operating refinery. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita temporarily shut down the nation's refining capacity by 28 percent last year when they slammed the Gulf of Mexico's coast. Since then, lawmakers have scrambled to find a solution to a tight refining market susceptible to disruptions during hurricane season. Texas Congressman Ralph Hall, who backed the bill, says the Texarkana site is ideal for being strategically located where Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana practically meet. But even if refinery plans gets a financial commitment and regulatory backing, it could be another ten years before the facility comes online.


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