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In The Region

First Mariner reports 26% profit increase in 4Q

First Mariner Bancorp, the parent of First Mariner Bank and Finance Maryland LLC, reported yesterday a 26 percent increase in profit for fourth-quarter 2003, attributing the gain to strong loan growth.

For the quarter that ended Dec. 31, the Baltimore bank earned a profit of $1.4 million, or 23 cents per share, compared with $1.1 million, or 20 cents a share, in the year-earlier period.

For the year, First Mariner reported record net income of $5.3 million, or 88 cents per share, compared with $3.9 million, or 69 cents per share in 2002. The bank had assets of $1.06 billion at the end of the year, a 21 percent increase over 2002. Loans outstanding increased by $75.9 million during the year, an increase of 14 percent.

4th-quarter net income up 3% at Columbia Bancorp

Columbia Bancorp, parent of the Columbia Bank, reported fourth-quarter net income yesterday of $3.13 million, up about 3 percent from the year-earlier period after subtracting one-time gains.

The profit amounted to 42 cents a share, equal to earnings for the fourth quarter of 2002. The Columbia-based bank earned $3.48 million in the fourth quarter of 2002, including the profit from the sale of its administrative office building. Without that gain, its net income was $3.04 million.

For all of last year, the bank earned $11.9 million, or $1.62 a share, compared with $10.87 million, or $1.50 a share, in 2002. Excluding the one-time gain, 2002 profit was $10.44 million.

AFL-CIO plans to picket Safeway to back workers

With supermarket workers in California on strike for more than three months, the AFL-CIO has called for pickets at Safeway stores in locations around the country - including Baltimore.

About 70,000 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union have been on strike or locked out since Oct. 11. Health care coverage is the main issue in the dispute between the supermarket workers and Safeway, Kroger Co., owner of Ralphs, and Albertsons Inc.

A date when the picketing will begin was not available yesterday, but AFL-CIO spokeswoman Sarah E. Massey said it would start as soon as possible.

United to build terminal for commuters at Dulles

United Airlines, facing a challenge from Atlantic Coast Airlines Holdings Inc. at Washington Dulles International Airport, said yesterday that it will build a $22 million terminal to handle commuter flights there.

United, which is operating under bankruptcy protection, expects to begin construction within a week. The project is to include a larger gate and customer-waiting area. Passengers won't have to transfer to a separate concourse, and travel "will be more comfortable, more convenient and simple," United said.

Atlantic Coast, which operates United commuter flights at Dulles, has said it wants to become an independent low-fare carrier.


Computer Associates official pleads guilty to obstruction count

A former senior vice president of Computer Associates International Inc. pleaded guilty to obstructing justice yesterday, saying the company had a "widespread practice" of allowing the late booking of contracts to inflate quarterly sales figures.

Lloyd Silverstein, 48, a former senior vice president for finance, entered the plea to a single count of conspiracy to obstruct justice in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, N.Y. He admitted lying in September 2002 to federal prosecutors, FBI agents and Securities and Exchange Commission investigators during a probe of the company.

Silverstein said he agreed with several Computer Associates executives during a conspiracy in August and September 2002 to hide the illegal accounting practices.

Prosecutors agree to give Scrushy access to assets

Richard Scrushy, the Health- South Corp. founder accused of inflating the company's earnings by $2.7 billion, has reached an agreement with U.S. prosecutors to gain access to his assets frozen by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Karon Bowdre in Birmingham, Ala., who froze the assets when Scrushy was indicted in November, canceled a hearing on the dispute yesterday. Prosecutors want to seize $279 million in cash and property. Scrushy wants access to assets that didn't come from the money he made at HealthSouth.

Bowdre's order didn't detail the agreement in a weeks-long battle about whether he could have some of his money. Scrushy is to go to trial Aug. 23 on charges of money laundering, securities fraud and wire fraud.

Goldman Sachs to refund $9.5 million to WorldCom

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. will refund MCI, the former WorldCom Inc., $9.5 million for advice it gave the telecommunications company in the months before its bankruptcy filing in July 2002.

This follows a settlement between Goldman and MCI approved yesterday by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Arthur J. Gonzalez, who is overseeing MCI's Chapter 11 case in New York.

MCI, now based in Ashburn, Va., hired Goldman in May 2002 to provide financial advice, two months before it filed for bankruptcy, overwhelmed by an accounting scandal. Soon after its filing, MCI told Goldman it might try to recoup the fees it paid the investment bank.

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

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