Monday June 26th, 2006

Enron executive receives probation in tax case...U.S.-Arab Economic Conference gets underway in Houston...AT&T expands into cable TV with high-speed Internet service in San Antonio...

Former low-level Enron finance executive Larry Lawyer has been sentenced today in Houston to two years probation. Lawyer faced up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for filing a false tax return in 2000 that didn't note his kickbacks as income. A defense attorney noted that Lawyer was involved in a tax case--not an Enron fraud case. Lawyer gave nearly $80,000--the amount he received in kickbacks--to a fund for unemployed former Enron workers. Enron founder Ken Lay and former CEO Jeff Skilling were convicted last month of fraud, conspiracy and other charges for lying about Enron's health before it collapsed. They face 20 years or more in prison when they're sentenced October 23rd. Both are appealing.


About 800 are registered to attend three days of discussions at the U.S.-Arab Economic Conference at the Hilton Americas and George R. Brown Convention Center. Designed to bolster the relationship between the United States and the Middle East, topics range from breaking the oil addiction to Islam's role in western culture. Nasser Beydoun is co-founder of the forum.

"The objective of the forum is to accomplish a very important goal, and that is to develop the strategic vision and blueprint to strengthen the relationship between the United States and the Arab world."

Ahmad Chebbani also co-founded the forum.

"Last year after Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana, we made the difficult decision to postpone the U.S.-Arab Economic Forum. We think we made the right decision. The priority then clearly needed to be on the families and the evacuees, as Houston welcomed without any hesitation."

The forum will hear from ConocoPhillips CEO James Mulva, Exxon Mobil's Rex Tillerson, Marathon's Clarence Cazalot, Jr., Shell's John Hofmeister and presidential confidante Karen Hughes, as well as business executives and government officials from the Arab world.


TXU Corporation says a subsidiary will pay a joint venture with another company $8.7 billion over ten years to manage its electric-transmission system. The Dallas-based utility holding company says the new venture--to be called Infrastrux Energy Services--should begin by year's end. That's subject to the restructuring of current debt by parent Infrastrux Group. TXU says its electric delivery unit would continue to own its own distribution system. The joint venture will design, build and maintain assets in TXU's electricity-transmission system. The companies say the new joint venture could also provide construction and power-restoration services to other utilities across North America. TXU is the largest electric utility in Texas.


Houston-based Team Baby Entertainment has been acquired by former Disney chief Michael Eisner's Tornante Company, according to the Houston Chronicle. Team Baby sells 20 DVDs spotlighting college sports teams. Team Baby also struck a deal with Major League Baseball.


Drivers in the Houston area have more options when it comes to Interstate 10. The first ten miles of the Katy Freeway expansion project--is done. The announcement came today from Governor Rick Perry. He was joined in Katy by Congressman John Culberson and State Transportation Commissioner John Johnson. The update involves part of I-10 from the Fort Bend County line to just west of State Highway Six. Perry's office says the overall 23-mile project should be done by the spring of 2009. The cost is about $2.7 billion.


The current mergers and acquisition environment is good, according to a recent survey on 1,201 investment bankers, private equity professionals, corporate executives, lawyers, accountants and others involved in the so-called "deal economy." That's according to the Houston Business Journal, which says the ACG/Thomson DealMaker's Survey indicates 94 percent of Houston's dealmakers believe the M&A environment is strong. Worldwide mergers and acquisitions are poised to break the 2000 record, according to the Association for Corporate Growth and Thomson Financial.


A new survey shows the vast majority of businesses have no idea of what a potential wave of retirements will do to their operations. The survey released by the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas finds only six percent of companies have asked employees approaching retirement age about their retirement plans. And, among companies with ten-to-30 percent of workers reaching retirement eligibility within the next five years, none has surveyed these workers to find out how many actually plan to hang it up. About 29 percent of companies are in this category. Several industries are likely to be severely affected by retirements in the near future. One in every two nurses will reach retirement age by 2015. And, in the auto industry, where the average age of workers is 55, there is concern that there are not enough younger skilled workers to fill the void left by retiring workers.


Sales of new homes rose last month. The Commerce Department is reporting a 4.6 percent increase in May, contrary to the forecasts from economists who were looking for a decline. New home sales surged to the highest level since last December. Regionally, sales were up in all parts of the nation, except for the northeast. It saw a decline of nearly eight percent. The median price of homes dropped to 235,000, down more than four percent from the April sales price. The May sales increase meant the number of unsold new homes on the market at the end of the month edged down.


AT&T today expanded its move into cable TV by offering U-Verse video and high-speed Internet service in San Antonio. About 5,000 homes across the Alamo City are involved. The service originally was slated for a full-scale launch starting in late 2005. But today's action is the focal point of San Antonio-based AT&T's bid to transform itself into a multimedia provider of communications beyond phone calls. The initial packages are priced from $69 to $124 per month--depending on the choice of premium channels and Internet connection speeds. The selection includes more than 200 channels of video and music programming. The company says the computer download speeds range from 1.5 to six megabits per second. AT&T also is offering family-oriented bundles.


For the blind, it's another tool to help them lead independent lives. A new handheld device is out that converts the printed word to audio. It also includes a personal digital assistant and a digital camera. Tommy Craig of Austin is one of about 500 blind people who tested the camera that talks. He found he was able to read everything from menus to cooking directions by positioning the reader over print and taking a picture. The head of the National Federation of the Blind calls the device the hottest new technology for blind people in two decades. It will go on sale this weekend at the group's annual meeting in Dallas.


McClatchy Company has found a buyer for the last of the Knight Ridder papers it plans to divest. It's agreed to sell the Times Leader of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania to a consortium of private investors. That's according to a story on the newspaper's Web site today. It says former editor and publisher Richard Connor agreed to buy the paper in conjunction with a group of local investors and Dallas-based investment firm H.M. Capital Partners. The newspaper says terms were not immediately disclosed. Connor's also former publisher of the Fort Worth Star Telegram in Texas and founder of the Texas-based Lionheart Newspapers Group. In 2001, Connor and his wife bought the weekly Fort Worth Business Press from his Lionheart Partners and left the company. The deal preserves Wilkes-Barre as a two-newspaper town. Staffers had worried that the Times-Leader would be sold to the parent company of rival Daily Citizens' Voice.


The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho wants Idaho to build more state prisons. The group objects to the placement of Idaho inmates in a privately run east Texas prison. Since more than 400 Idaho inmates were sent to the Newton County Correctional Center this year, there's been an inmate protest over poor conditions there. Some prison employees have been reprimanded for allegedly mistreating inmates. ACLU Idaho head Jack van Valkenburgh says he hates to fight for more prisons--that he'd prefer more money going to schools. But he says Idaho isn't providing minimally adequate care for inmates. He says Idaho should look at other options for housing inmates--including building new prisons so they can stay in their home state.


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