Monday July 31st, 2006

Two of NatWest Three search for new attorneys...Judge to allow ex-Enron employees to speak at Skilling, Fastow sentencing hearings...Houston-based NEON Enterprise Software partners with academia to develop IT curriculum...

Two of three British ex-bankers facing Enron-related fraud charges are seeking new lawyers--so the trio won't be ready for trial in September. That's according to a court filing today. The three men are 43-year-old David Bermingham, 44-year-old Gary Mulgrew and 43-year-old Giles Darby. They appeared before a U.S. judge in mid-July for the first time since they were indicted in 2002. They had fought extradition and lost. The judge scheduled their trial for September 11th. But attorneys on both sides expect that to be postponed. Bermingham lawyer Dan Cogdell and prosecutors have suggested holding off on setting a new date until Mulgrew and Darby find new lawyers. A judge is set to consider the lawyer issue at a hearing tomorrow. The men each face seven counts of wire fraud for their alleged part in a secret financial scam in 2000 to enrich themselves at their employers' expense. They've pleaded not guilty and are each free on $1 million dollar bond. They're required to live in the U.S. pending trial.

Jeff Skilling and Andy Fastow could hear first-hand how their crimes affected their co-workers. Sentencing hearings are pending in the next couple of months for the former executives of Enron. U.S. District Judge Sim Lake recently ruled that victims who show up at Fastow's September 26th hearing can sign in and speak. Skilling's lawyers also expect Enron victims to speak about their financial hardships at the former CEO's sentencing hearing October 23rd. Skilling in May was convicted of 19 counts of fraud, conspiracy and other charges for lying to investors and employees about the company's financial health. Fastow is Enron's former chief financial officer. He pleaded guilty in 2004 to two counts of conspiracy and agreed to the serve the maximum ten-year term for his admitted crimes. Skilling faces decades in prison.

The City of San Diego is suing Houston-based law firm Vinson & Elkins, saying it failed to properly investigate possible financial mismanagement by city officials. V&E was hired in 2004 to investigate whether a $1.4 billion to $2 billion deficit in the city's pension fund was caused by the actions of city officials. The law firm was to provide KPMG with an independent report. The lawsuit filed last week says that like the work the firm did for Enron, its investigation could best be described as having been performed with "eyes wide shut." Vinson & Elkins has faced similar accusations in the past. At the request of former Enron Chairman Ken Lay in 2001, it conducted a probe into allegations made by former Enron executive Sherron Watkins. She testified later at Lay's trial that the investigation was a whitewash. San Diego wants more than $10 million in damages, punitive damages and lawsuit costs.


With a potential shortage of technical professionals expected in the next few years, IBM and Houston-based NEON Enterprise Software are partnering with academic institutions and other companies to develop curriculum addressing the needs of the IT sector. Don Pate is president and CEO of NEON.

"There is a very real shortage and it's getting worse, regrettably, in terms of trained people specifically in the mainframe world. Mainframes, of course, being the large IBM computer environment systems that most of the Global 1000 turns their businesses on. If you're a large bank, stockbroker, airline, hospital, government entity--you name it--somewhere, behind a glass wall are still these large mainframe computers. And all of that has actuarially turned into what we call the graying of the mainframe world."

Houston Community College plans to offer an Enterprise Mainframe System Certificate program in the fall of 2006. Some participating companies have agreed to provide guest instructors, internship programs and job placement opportunities.

"They're making history. Houston Community College is the first university to embrace this idea and run with it, and we have found them to be business-friendly in the sense of wanting to graduate young men and women that are ready to go in the workforce. So they will be offering--this fall--mainframe curriculum."

Pate says the partnership is the perfect way to address the predicted shortage of mainframe employees.

"We sort of, I modestly will say, took the lead in contacting folks and letting them know that the mainframe is still out there, still viable. And we thought there was a real fit out there through a partnership that would be one part universities, another part companies such as ours, and another part would be IBM, of course, that could bring hardware resources to bear and teachers and certification and so on."

Pate says it's important to provide the next generation of IT professionals familiar with the mainframe systems that are still in use.


Researchers at the University of Houston and the Lunar and Planetary Institute have found a way to study the Martian landscape without having to take that long trip. UH computer scientist Ricardo Vilalta has joined with Tomasz Stepinski of LPI to develop new computational tools to characterize large portions of the Martian landscape. The work is being funded by a three-year, quarter million dollar grant from NASA's Applied Information Systems Department. LPI conducts research in lunar, planetary and terrestrial sciences on behalf of university science departments and NASA. Part of the Universities Space Research Association, the LPI is a NASA-funded research institute in Houston, dedicated to studies of the solar system, its evolution and formation. This project seeks to identify the inside of craters, valley networks, the outside and inside rims of craters, the rims of inside craters and inter-crater plains.


Valero said today its second-quarter profit rose 62 percent despite higher costs and interest expenses, as acquisitions boosted revenue. The San Antonio-based pipeline operator says its earnings from continuing operations were $27.8 million for limited partners--or 60 cents per unit. The publicly traded partnership formed by Valero Energy says revenue rose five-and-a-half times to $280 million. That was helped by the 2005 acquisition of Kaneb Services and Kaneb Pipe Line. Valero has about 9,200 miles of pipeline and $77 million barrels of storage capacity for crude oil and refined products. Its facilities are in the United States, the Netherlands Antilles, Canada, Mexico, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.


Continental Airlines is launching new weekly flights between its New York/Newark hub and Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles, beginning December 16th. Continental also offers weekly nonstop service to Bonaire from Houston. Continental now serves 77 Latin American destinations and the Caribbean.


Houston's PULSE EFT Association is nearing ten billion ATM and debit transactions. PULSE was formed in 1981 by seven Texas-based bank holding companies to switch and settle ATM transactions among multiple financial institutions. It's now one of the nation's largest ATM and debit networks, serving more than 4,200 banks, credit unions and other financial institutions nationwide. PULSE was acquired by Discover Financial Services, a unit of New York-based Morgan Stanley. It now connects about 90 million cardholders to nearly 250,000 ATMs and 3.4 point-f-sale debit terminals in all 50 states.


A rejuvenated Texarkana Black Chamber of Commerce hopes to help minority-owned businesses and encourage black youngsters to enter the business world. The chamber reorganized last year and has opened a new office. The group has developed programming to help business owners in the area and foster entrepreneurship in young people. President and Chief Executive Officer David Wilson says membership has grown from zero to 48. The Black Chamber of Commerce is open to all minority businesses. Wilson says the group is "just happy to be in a new location and doing bigger and better things.'' An offshoot of the chamber, the Texarkana Youth Association, has been working with young people and the association is starting an apprenticeship program.


Bio photo of Ed Mayberry

Ed Mayberry

Local Anchor, All Things Considered

Ed Mayberry has worked in radio since 1971, with many of those years spent on the rock 'n' roll disc jockey side of the business...