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In The Region

Millennium Digital, Net2Phone to offer broadband calling

Millennium Digital Media LLC - which delivers cable television and broadband Internet to 128,000 customers in four states including Maryland - has signed a five-year agreement with Net2Phone Inc. to offer telephone service over the Internet beginning early next year. Terms were not disclosed.

The Voice over Internet Protocol, or "VoIP," service will enable customers to place phone calls using a broadband cable network. Included in the monthly package are long-distance and local calls, call waiting, caller ID and voice mail.

Millennium, based in St. Louis, has not set pricing for the package, but a representative said it will be competitive with other area offerings. Net2Phone, based in Newark, N.J., will use Millennium resources to provide the service in portions of Anne Arundel and Howard counties, as well as Washington state, Oregon and Michigan.

Several companies offer VoIP service in Maryland - including Vienna, Va.-based SunRocket Inc., which sells its service at a flat rate of $199 a year in Baltimore, its surrounding counties and the Washington suburbs. Verizon Communications Inc. offers Internet telephone service in Maryland for about $35 per month.

Jamison Door acquires Montana company, HCR

Jamison Door Co. of Hagerstown has bought a Montana manufacturer of specialized air doors.

The purchase price for HCR Inc., of Lewistown, Mont., was not disclosed. The two top officers at HCR will join the board of directors for Jamison, said John T. Williams, the board chairman.

Williams said the purchase will enhance the 99-year-old company's position in the specialized door market nationwide. HCR will bring Jamison new technology that includes forced-air doors for the cold storage and grocery distribution industries.

Omega Healthcare REIT to issue 3.5 million shares

Omega Healthcare Investors Inc., a nursing home real estate investment trust, said yesterday that it plans to sell 3.5 million shares in a secondary offering.

The Timonium REIT said underwriters would have an option to buy an additional 525,000 shares to cover any over-allotments. UBS Investment Bank is the lead manager, with Banc of America Securities LLC, Deutsche Bank Securities and Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc. acting as co-managers.

Omega, which moved to Maryland in 2002 from Michigan, owns or holds mortgages on more than 205 nursing homes and skilled-care facilities. It leases the facilities to operators.

Judge delays jailing of ex-Rite Aid official

A federal judge in Harrisburg, Pa., allowed a former Rite Aid Corp. executive convicted in an accounting scandal to remain free on bail yesterday pending appeal, at least until the U.S. Supreme Court clarifies the status of federal sentencing guidelines.

Franklin C. Brown, 76, was convicted last year of 10 criminal counts related to his tenure as the pharmacy chain's vice chairman and top lawyer. He had been scheduled to turn himself in Dec. 13 to begin serving a 10-year prison term.

But U.S. District Judge Sylvia H. Rambo said Brown is entitled to remain free until the high court rules on a pair of closely watched cases with wide implications for all federal criminal sentences. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the cases Oct. 8.

Elsewhere

Pension agency raises annual benefit limit to $45,614

The federal agency that protects private sector pension plans said yesterday that the maximum annual benefit for plans taken over in 2005 will be $45,614 for workers who wait until age 65 to retire.

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. said that figure represents an increase of 2.8 percent from the 2004 maximum annual benefit of $44,386. It was the largest one-year increase in the maximum for workers retiring at age 65 since a 5.5 percent jump in 2002.

If a pension plan is taken over by the PBGC in 2005 but a participant does not begin collecting benefits until a future year, the 2005 maximum insurance limits still apply.

The benefit figure is arrived at each year based on a formula set in law that takes into account such factors as growth in the benefit base. Workers who retire earlier than age 65 get smaller benefits and those who work longer get larger benefits.

Champion of tax havens gets six-month prison term

A self-professed guru of offshore tax havens was sentenced to six months in prison yesterday for conspiring to defraud the Internal Revenue Service after prosecutors urged a light term in exchange for his cooperation in the case.

Jerome Schneider, whose book titles include Hiding your Money and How to Own Your Own Private International Bank, made millions helping the wealthy set up offshore banks to keep money from being taxed.

He faced a maximum five-year term, but the government urged the judge, in federal court in San Francisco, to imprison him for no more than six months because of his cooperation. He is assisting authorities in catching his clients and others, and has made himself widely available to the media to tell viewers and readers that many offshore tax havens are illegal.

Mirant subsidiary settles price-manipulation case

A subsidiary of energy supplier Mirant Corp. has agreed to pay $12.5 million to settle government claims that it tried to manipulate the price of natural gas by giving false information to trade publications.

In its agreement with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission completed yesterday, Mirant's trading and risk management unit, Mirant Americas Energy Marketing, neither admitted nor denied the allegations.

Atlanta-based Mirant, which filed for bankruptcy protection in July 2003, said it has given the agency a claim in the bankruptcy case for the amount of the penalty. The claim will be subordinate to those of unsecured creditors, but ahead of equity holders.

Wal-Mart vice chairman, Coughlin, leaving Jan. 24

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Vice Chairman Tom Coughlin, whose responsibilities include overseeing Wal-Mart and Sam's Club warehouse stores, is retiring as an employee of the world's largest retailing company next month, the company announced yesterday.

Coughlin, 55, who has been with Wal-Mart for more than 25 years, will leave Jan. 24, the company said. His term on the Wal-Mart board runs through June. He has been vice chairman and a board member since April 2003.

Wal-Mart has seen disappointing sales since the day after Thanksgiving, but a company spokesman said that the results had no bearing on Coughlin's departure and that Coughlin has trained a team to continue his duties.

Wall Street Journal editor moving to BusinessWeek

Stephen J. Adler, deputy managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, has been named editor of BusinessWeek magazine, succeeding Stephen B. Shepard, who said last week that he would retire from the magazine to become the first dean of a new journalism school at the City University of New York.

Adler, who is also editorial director of the online edition of the Journal, will join the magazine next month for a transition period before officially assuming the top editorial job April 1.

Samsung to put $23 billion in chip production lines

Samsung Electronics Co., the South Korean electronics giant, said yesterday that it would invest $23.7 billion in new chip production lines over the next six years and create 10,000 jobs.

Market watchers expect the move to cement the company's long-term leadership in the sector, but warned of a weaker performance in coming quarters because of downturns in critical parts of its business.

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

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