Friday PM November 17th, 2006

Two more former Enron executives receive prison sentences...About 40 protesters support striking Houston janitors arrested for blocking downtown traffic... Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau initiating national search for CEO position; current president and CEO Jordy Tollett asked to submit application...

Two more Enron-related sentences have been handed down. Michael Kopper--once top lieutenant to former Enron finance chief Andy Fastow--has been sentenced to three years and a month in prison by U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein, Jr. The 41-year-old was the first former Enron executive to plead guilty to charges stemming from the company's 2001 collapse, for money laundering and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. He led federal prosecutors to Fastow, who in turn led them to Enron founder Ken Lay and former chief executive Jeff Skilling. The company's former investor relations director, Mark Koenig, has been sentenced to 18 months. Koenig was the government's first witness in the trial of Lay and Skilling earlier this year. Prosecutors had asked that Kopper and Koenig be given reduced sentences for their cooperation.

Two senators have introduced a bill to allow victims to seek restitution when a defendant convicted of a crime dies before his appeals have been completed. Last month, U.S. District Judge Sim Lake wiped out the convictions of Enron founder Ken Lay because he died before sentencing and before the appeals process had been completed. Senators Dianne Feinstein of California and Jeff Sessions of Alabama introduced legislation to clarify the legal procedures. Judge Lake was following a precedent set by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which said when a defendant found guilty dies before exhausting appeals, his prosecution must be abated, his conviction vacated and his indictment dismissed.

Police say about 40 protesters blocking a traffic intersection outside JP Morgan Chase and in front of Chevron Thursday in a show of support of Houston's striking janitors were arrested. The strike has been ongoing since October. That's when talks between the union and Houston's five major cleaning companies broke down. About 1,700 janitors have walked off the job, demanding a pay raise to $8.50 an hour, more guaranteed work hours and medical benefits. The protesters blocked the intersection at Travis and Capitol for more than an hour before they were handcuffed and taken away by police. One janitor was taken away by ambulance with hand injuries but there were no other reports of injuries. Police said the protesters would likely be charged with trespassing, a misdemeanor.

Contract talks between Goodyear Tire & Rubber and the striking United Steelworkers Union have broken off again. The sides had resumed negotiations Tuesday but by today indicated little progress had been made. Ohio,-based Goodyear says in a statement that the primary issues continue to be retiree health care and plans to close a tire factory in Tyler, Texas. The union doesn't want any plants to close and disagrees with Goodyear's idea for a new retiree health care trust. More than 12,000 union workers in the United States in Canada have been on strike since October 5th. The Pittsburgh-based union says its negotiators have left the site of the talks in Cincinnati.

The executive board of the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau is enlisting a national executive search firm to find qualified candidates for the CEO position. Current president and CEO Jordy Tollett has been asked to also submit an application. The move comes on the heels of a request by Mayor Bill White. The search committee will be chaired by Greater Houston Partnership CEO Jeff Mosely.

U.S. builders were curbing construction of new homes in a big way last month. They have been responding to rising supplies of empty, unsold homes. The Commerce Department says housing starts fell more than 14 and a-half percent in October to the lowest level in over six years. It is the biggest drop in 19 months, a faster slowdown than economists had expected. Building permits, a gauge of future construction, dropped more than six percent in October, continuing a decline that has been in place for most of this year. The level of building activity in October was nearly 25 percent lower compared to October 2005. There have been signs that the plunge could be nearing a bottom. The monthly survey of builder sentiment rose slightly earlier this month, following another small increase last month.

Southwest Airlines carried more people than any other U.S. airline in August, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, taking the lead for the first time. The 8.7 million passengers carried by Dallas-based Southwest exceeded the 8.5 million flown by Fort Worth-based American Airlines. American's total includes international passengers, while Southwest only flies domestically.

Eatzi's Market & Bakery on Post Oak Boulevard has closed. The Web site for the Dallas-based bakery no longer lists the Houston location. The Houston Business Journal speculates that the decision to close may have been made because Austin-based health food supermarket chain Whole Foods plans to develop a store at the southwest corner of Post Oak and San Felipe.

Baker Hughes in Houston says the number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. rose by three this week--to reach 1,696. One year ago the rig count stood at 1,478. Texas lost nine rigs.

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