BUSINESS DIGEST

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In The Region

Founder of NTG pleads not guilty to fraud charges

Victor Giordani Jr., a founder of the now closed Network Technologies Group and the company's former chief operating officer, pleaded not guilty yesterday to federal bank, mail and wire fraud charges.

Giordani, 55, and three other officers of Network Technologies Group, or NTG, were indicted last month, each on 10 fraud counts.

The company folded last summer amid an accounting scheme that involved mis-booked and phony invoices. The NTG officials are charged with defrauding the company's lender, Mercantile-Safe Deposit and Trust Co., and two of its investors - Abell Venture Fund of Baltimore and Smith Whiley & Co., a Connecticut investment company.

NTG was a privately held Baltimore company that installed cable for utility and telecommunications companies, including Comcast Corp., AT&T; Corp. and WorldCom Inc.

Delaware homebuilder agrees to refunds

The Maryland attorney general's office said yesterday that the owners of a Delaware homebuilding company in bankruptcy have agreed to return $216,879 to about 61 consumers whose homes went unfinished once the builder's financial problems emerged.

The attorney general charged Greenwood, Del.-based Nanticoke Homes Inc. and its then-principal owners in June with failing to place consumer deposits in escrow accounts and misrepresenting that it could complete the homes given its financial difficulties.

The modular homebuilder and its owners didn't admit breaking any law, but they agreed to pay $140,000 over 18 months to compensate at least 30 Maryland consumers who paid other builders to finish their homes after Nanticoke filed for bankruptcy protection in March. The owners also will pay more than $76,000 to 31 consumers who made down payments, if that money is not repaid through Nanticoke's bankruptcy estate.

Consumers who have not been contacted by the attorney general's office and who paid another builder to finish a Nanticoke home should call 410- 576-6561.

Mercantile to acquire discount brokerage

Mercantile Bankshares Corp. and Peremel & Co. Inc. announced a definitive agreement yesterday in which Mercantile will acquire Peremel, a brokerage that offers discount brokerage services. No purchase price was announced.

The deal, engineered by Mercantile executives Wallace Mathai-Davis and John J. Pileggi, is part of the locally based bank's continued push to increase its wealth-management business. Even though Peremel will operate as an independent unit after the deal's close, Mathai-Davis said the acquisition adds essential services if Mercantile is to be a full-service wealth manager.

The agreement to buy Peremel is the fourth acquisition Mercantile's wealth-management subsidiary has announced during the past year, along with a half-dozen significant executive appointments, including Mathai-Davis.

Peremel, which employs 12 locally, has clients in Baltimore and across the country. The 25-year-old firm is headed by President Harold N. Peremel.

BACVA names 20 to executive search panel

The Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association named 20 people from the hospitality industry yesterday to a committee to search for a new leader for the organization.

The group will be co-chaired by City Councilwoman Catherine Pugh, who also is on the BACVA board, and Robert Steele, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Baltimore. Carroll R. Armstrong, who resigned as president and chief executive Feb. 1, also will be on the search committee. Other members include business leaders, tourism officials and representatives of local attractions.

BACVA officials said their goal is to find the best available candidates within 90 days.

FTI Consulting reports revenue of $90.6 million

FTI Consulting Inc. said yesterday that its fourth-quarter revenue nearly tripled, from $30.5 million in 2001 to $90.6 million in 2002.

Revenue for the year was $224.1 million, an 83.2 percent increase from 2001, when revenue was $122.3 million.

The Annapolis company, which provides turnaround, bankruptcy and litigation-related consulting services, also said yesterday that it will sell 2.1 million shares of common stock, and stockholders will sell 21,969 shares of common stock. The previously announced offering begins today.

MDBED announces assistant secretaries

The Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development announced the appointment yesterday of two assistant secretaries who will serve under new Secretary Aris Melissaratos.

Robert E. Carter, a former vice president of the Bristol Marketing Group, was named assistant secretary for tourism, film and the arts. He will oversee the Maryland Office of Tourism Development, the Maryland State Arts Council and the Maryland Film Office.

William Askinazi, a corporate lawyer, was named assistant secretary for business development, a key post in the department's effort to attract business and industry to Maryland, support existing businesses and market the state to domestic and international companies. Askinazi will supervise the offices of International Trade Development, Global Investment and Technology, Industry and Professional Services, Business Information Services and Advertising and Promotion.

Elsewhere

Price of gasoline is up 8 percent since beginning of year

The retail price of gasoline is up 8 percent since the start of the year, fueled by high oil costs and traders' self-fulfilling fears of an upward trend as the U.S. considers military action in Iraq.

The wholesale price of gasoline on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 1.7 cents to $1.018 per gallon yesterday, its highest level since May 2001. At the pump, the average price of regular unleaded gasoline is $1.53 per gallon, up 11 cents since the year began and 43 cents higher than a year ago.

Analysts said the main drivers on wholesale markets yesterday were the latest government supply data and the case made against Iraq by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. Prices retreated a bit later in the day.

Delta to reduce pay for top executives

Delta Air Lines Inc. will reduce pay by 8 percent for most executives and by 10 percent for Chief Executive Officer Leo Mullin and President Fred Reid on March 1, the company said in a memo to U.S. employees.

Delta, the No. 3 U.S. airline, also may lower employees' wages to stay competitive with pay at carriers that have filed for bankruptcy, Mullin said yesterday at a Goldman Sachs transportation conference.

The memo, sent Tuesday, said pay cuts weren't being considered this year for nonunion workers "below the vice president level."

Toyota to build plant in San Antonio

Toyota Motor Corp. announced yesterday that it would build another North American assembly plant, its sixth, in San Antonio. Toyota's board of directors approved the South Texas city for a plant that will produce 150,000 full-size Tundra pickup trucks per year.

The $800 million facility initially will employ 2,000 people and have a $78 million payroll.

Sotheby's to stop its auctions on eBay

Sotheby's Holdings Inc., a leading auction house, will stop holding auctions on eBay, saying they were unprofitable.

Sotheby's has been selling art, antiques and collectibles on its eBay-linked Web site since May.

The New York auction house plans to focus on promoting eBay technology that allows online bidding on its live auctions.

This column was compiled from reports by Sun staff writers, the Associated Press and Bloomberg News.

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