Monday June 6th, 2005

Lea Fastow released from federal prison into downtown Houston halfway house…Fifteen families near Crosby forced out of homes by natural gas well fire face being kept away up to a month…U. S. Supreme Court rules foreign cruise lines sailing here must provide better handicap access… The wife of former Enron finance chief Andrew Fastow was […]

Lea Fastow released from federal prison into downtown Houston halfway house…Fifteen families near Crosby forced out of homes by natural gas well fire face being kept away up to a month…U. S. Supreme Court rules foreign cruise lines sailing here must provide better handicap access…

The wife of former Enron finance chief Andrew Fastow was released from federal prison in Houston early this morning and entered a halfway house. Lea Fastow walked out of the federal detention center in downtown Houston before dawn, leaving prison after serving nearly 11 months of her one-year sentence for lying on her federal tax returns about income from an Enron deal. She’s slated to be released July 10th. The Houston Chronicle reports federal prison officials could have allowed her to serve the last five weeks of her sentence under home confinement. Instead, she’ll complete her sentence at a downtown halfway house. Andrew Fastow pleaded guilty in January 2004 to conspiracy in a deal that called for a ten-year sentence and his help in the continuing investigation. He’ll be sentenced next year after the trials of Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling and Richard Causey.

Fifteen families forced from their homes by last week’s fire at a natural gas well near Houston may be kept out of their homes for a month. That’s the word from Louisiana Gas Development Corporation, which owns the flaming well. The Shreveport, Louisiana-based company says the families may have to stay away from their homes while the fire burns itself out. The well is about 25 miles northeast of Houston near the small community of Crosby. More than 200 Crosby residents met with Louisiana gas officials yesterday to voice their concerns about health and security following the Wednesday explosion. Residents and some people with asthma complained about noticeable health concerns developed since the explosion. Harris County health officials issued an air quality warning last Friday because grit from the well was dusting homes and vehicles within a five-mile radius. The county says it has been informed that natural gas from the well blow-out may have traveled underground into nearby areas, and does not have the sulfur-like odor that gas companies add to help identify leaks.

The U. S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that foreign cruise lines sailing in U. S. waters must provide better access for passengers in wheelchairs. The narrow 5-to-4 decision expands the scope of a landmark federal disabilities law. Advocates of rights for the disabled are hailing the ruling as a victory, saying inadequate ship facilities inhibited their right to “participate fully in society.” Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy says Congress intended the 1990 law to apply to cruise lines. Joining him in the decision were Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. The lawsuit was brought by three disabled passengers who boarded Norwegian Cruise Lines in Houston in 1998 and 1999. They say they paid premiums for handicapped-accessible cabins and the assistance of crew. But they say the cruise line failed to configure restaurants, elevators and other facilities in violation of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.

Houston-based oilfield services firm Weatherford International is acquiring the Energy Services Division and International Contract Drilling Division of Calgary, Canada-based Precision Drilling in a $2.28 billion deal. Precision’s International Contract Drilling Division acquired the worldwide land drilling assets of Houston-based Global Santa Fe in May 2004. Precision’s Energy Services Division is a global provider of cased and open hole wireline services, drilling and evaluation and production services.

The Houston Independent School District has been staging its two-day Gulf Coast Teacher Fair at the M. O. Campbell Center on Aldine Bender. On Friday the HISD Certified Teacher Fair is set for the University of Houston Hilton Hotel on Calhoun from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m., with interviews conducted at the site. Applicants are asked to bring resumes, teaching certificates, transcripts, references and other relevant information for immediate consideration.

Woodlands-based PharmaFrontiers says results from clinical trials show that its multiple sclerosis drug Tovaxin, used in two Phase I and II open-label studies, is safe and well-tolerated and patients showed positive responses. PharmaFrontiers plans to start Phase III and IV clinical trials by the end of this year or early next year. Tovaxin redirects a patient’s own T-cells–white blood cells that fight infection–against bad blood cells. MS is a progressive disease where the immune system attacks the body’s central nervous system, characterized by lesions on the brain a bouts of physical debilitation. PharmaFrontiers acquired Tovaxin when it acquired Opexa Pharmaceuticals last November.

Texas Genco today filed plans to sell up to $600 million in stock in an initial public offering. Houston-based Texas Genco is a spinoff from Centerpoint Energy, which operates power plants. Details about the number of shares to be offered and estimated price range for the IPO weren’t disclosed in the registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Texas Genco was bought from Centerpoint last year by the Blackstone Group, Hellman & Friedman, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Company and Texas Pacific Group. Texas Genco said it intends to use the proceeds from the offering to pay its owners.

SWCA Environmental Consultants of Phoenix will study wildlife and wetland issues related to the development of South Waller County Airport, according to the Houston Business Journal. A business aviation airport is planned near Igloo Products north of Interstate 10 and west of FM2855 between Brookshire and Katy. SWCA will assist in developing a plan to mitigate any wildlife issues using techniques and methods it says have been successful at airports around the world.

Tellepsen Builders has been awarded several multifamily housing projects in Texas worth around $60.6 million, including the Village Park project at Tanglewood. That’s a high-end senior living facility in the Galleria area.

Affordable Telecommunications Technology has opened an office in Bangkok, Thailand for marketing and distributing the company’s prepaid telecom services in Asia. The company plans to open an office in Shanghai, China in the next 30 days.

Coco’s Seafood Bar & Grill has opened its doors on Hammerly Boulevard. Owner Steven Ponce also owns Las Llardas Mexican restaurant.

The Houston Food Bank on Eastex Freeway has received a $50,000 donation from Kroger and Con Agra Foods, in conjunction with National Hunger Awareness Week. The Food Bank says the donation will fund about 651,041 additional meals for those in need. The Houston Food Bank provides food and essentials to more than 400 members programs in 18 southeast Texas counties, feeding 230,000 people every month.