Baltimore Co. 'infomercial' producer joins group of Pier Five hotel owners


A Baltimore County businessman who has made a fortune producing television "infomercials" and running a phone line with advice from psychics has joined the group taking over the Pier Five hotel and restaurant complex from the city.

Michael Warren Lasky, a former nationally known sports handicapper whose "Psychic Friends Network" is part of his multimillion-dollar Pikesville-based Inphomation Inc., is the newest partner in the group headed by Baltimore developer Otis Warren Jr.

The group took title to the Pier Five Clarion Inn at a settlement meeting Thursday night, after months of negotiations. It paid $5.5 million for the property, formerly known as Harrison's Pier Five -- $3.5 million in cash, and $2 million in a loan backed by a second mortgage, officials said.

Final approval of the deal is expected Wednesday at the weekly meeting of the Board of Estimates.

Baltimore's sale of the 71-room hotel and restaurant complex to the Warren group comes 18 months after the city acquired the project. The city's acquisition came after the original developers defaulted on a city-backed loan.

The city's cost of the takeover was $5.25 million. That was in addition to $5 million in federal loans funneled through the city that were never repaid and a loss of $1.2 million in unpaid property taxes.

Mr. Lasky brought "credit enhancement" to the project, Mr. Warren said yesterday.

"He was able to help with financing that was hard to get," he said. "I'm very proud to be associated with him."

Mr. Warren and city officials said yesterday that they did not know every aspect of Mr. Lasky's business.

"I was not aware of all of these business holdings," said Leslie Howard, development director of the Baltimore Development Corp., which helped close the deal on behalf of the city.

Mr. Warren said Mr. Lasky is a minority partner to his group, Pure Five LLC. In addition to Mr. Warren, Pure Five includes Stop, Shop & Save President Henry T. Baines; Watkins Security

President James H. Watkins; and Walter W. Hill Jr., joint owner and vice president of ESC Technologies Inc.

In effect, Mr. Warren suggested, Mr. Lasky replaces former Maryland Port Administration Deputy Director G. Gregory Russell, an original investor who backed out of the group after questions were raised about possible conflicts of interest.

"We originally started at five [investors]. We're still at five," Mr. Warren said.

Mr. Lasky said he joined the project because he thought it was a good investment.

"It can't miss," he said.

Five years ago, Mr. Lasky began Inphomation. Besides the "Psychic Friends Network," the company produces 30-minute long "infomercials" for cable and broadcast television selling products ranging from fishing lures to self-help books. Estimates of the company's revenues are upward of $100 million annually.

Previously, Mr. Lasky for nearly two decades ran a nationally known horse racing and sports handicapping business, giving advice under the name of Mike Warren.

Mr. Lasky said that when he began Inphomation he licensed the name to the business and still receives royalties but has no role in its operation.

As for the hotel, Otis Warren said his group plans $1.5 million in repairs and improvements. He said he is negotiating with a "major corporate tenant" to run the restaurant.

Adriano Moscatelli, a 33-year veteran of the hotel business, is the inn's new general manager. Mr. Moscatelli said his experience includes managing hotel properties from Durham, N.C., to Vail, Colo.

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