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In The Region

Maryland General union sets deadline for one-day strike

The union representing about 225 Maryland General Hospital employees has notified the hospital that its workers will go on strike next week if the two sides don't reach a new contract agreement before then, the union said yesterday.

Workers from the Service Employees International Union local 1199E-DC will strike from 6 a.m. Feb. 4 until 6 a.m. Feb. 5 if a deal isn't made, the union said.

At issue is a proposed one-year wage freeze. The union said workers haven't had a pay increase since 2003, and it called the proposal to freeze wages for a year "unacceptable." Maryland General officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

CoStar Group buys NRB, supplier of property data

CoStar Group Inc., a commercial real estate information services company, has acquired NRB, a supplier of property information to the shopping center industry, from Claritas Inc. for about $4.1 million in cash.

Bethesda-based CoStar, which provides comprehensive information on more than 457,000 office and industrial properties in the United States, plans to add more than 200,000 retail properties to its database in 2005.

NRB generates about $2 million in annual revenue. CoStar plans to integrate NRB's information into its subscription-based information services.

Elsewhere

3 Fannie Mae VPs 'stepping down' amid new audit

Three executives are stepping down from their positions at Fannie Mae as the mortgage giant deals with major financial reporting problems, a company spokesman said yesterday.

The employees, all senior vice presidents, will move into temporary advisory roles "as the company works through the restatement and re-audit," said spokesman Chuck Greener. He identified them as Jonathan Boyles, senior vice president for accounting and tax policy; Janet Pennewell, senior vice president for financial reporting; and Sam Rajappa, senior vice president for operations risk. He said each declined to comment.

Last week, the nation's biggest backer of home mortgages disclosed that it is eliminating 2004 performance bonuses for 43 top executives. The company also said top accounting officer Leanne G. Spencer has "stepped down" but will remain in a lesser post for a year. Greener said the employment terms for Boyles, Pennewell and Rajappa are expected to be similar to Spencer's.

ImClone settles suit for $75 million

ImClone Systems Inc. agreed yesterday to pay $75 million to settle a class action shareholder lawsuit from 2002 accusing the company of making false or misleading statements about prospects for its Erbitux colon-cancer drug.

The agreement will result in a fourth-quarter charge of $55.4 million for the portion of the payment not covered by insurance, ImClone said. The settlement is subject to court approval.

The agreement comes less than a week after ImClone's former chief executive officer, Samuel D. Waksal, and his father, Jack, settled an insider-trading case with the Securities and Exchange Commission for more than $5 million. Samuel Waksal is serving 87 months in federal prison for his conviction in a criminal case stemming from the scandal.

Boeing workers granted bias suit as class action

A federal judge in Washington state has ruled that a group of black Boeing Co. employees can sue the company for discrimination in pay and promotions as a group, lawyers for the workers said yesterday.

U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman granted class action status to the lawsuit, in which the employees are seeking back pay and punitive damages over the alleged discrimination, said Steve Berman, the employees' lead lawyer.

The class includes about 15,000 African-American salaried employees at Boeing.

SEC alleges fraud at Penthouse magazine

The Securities and Exchange Commission charged the former publisher of Penthouse magazine, one of its former executives and a former investor with accounting fraud yesterday.

Penthouse founder Robert Guccione, who resigned in 2003, agreed to settle related SEC claims that he misled investors.

Regulators claim Penthouse International Inc., now known as PHSL Worldwide Inc., issued inflated quarterly results in March 2003 that contained certification they had been reviewed by Guccione, then chief executive and chief financial officer. In fact, the SEC said, the report hadn't been reviewed by Guccione or the company's outside auditor and lawyers.

Charles Samel, a former director and officer at Penthouse International, and Jason Galanis, a former shareholder, allegedly cooked the books for that quarter by including a $1 million payment on a multiyear business agreement that wasn't signed until the following quarter, the SEC said.

HP reportedly discusses sharing of CEO's tasks

Hewlett-Packard Co.'s board of directors has discussed shifting some day-to-day responsibilities from CEO Carleton S. Fiorina to other executives in an effort to improve the technology giant's performance, according to a published report yesterday.

The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, said the board discussed granting more control to three senior executives at its annual planning meeting that took place between Jan. 12 and Jan. 15 in San Francisco.

Fiorina's job is not in question, one source told the Journal. "But she shouldn't be running everything every day," the person said. "She is very hands-on, and that slows things down."

HP said the report was speculation.

Ex-Southwest executive to help ATA restructure

The parent of ATA Airlines Inc. named a retired Southwest Airlines Co. executive yesterday to help ATA restructure its debt as it prepares to emerge from bankruptcy.

John G. Denison will be ATA Holding Corp.'s co-chief restructuring officer, working with its management to overhaul its operations and prepare a bankruptcy reorganization plan.

Denison retired from Southwest Airlines in 2001 after 15 years there. Southwest reached a $117 million deal last month under which it will acquire six of ATA's 14 gates at Chicago's Midway International Airport. The airlines will have a code-sharing ticket agreement on many routes starting next month.

Seat on Big Board sold for $1.2 million

A New York Stock Exchange membership sold yesterday for $1.2 million, up $225,000 from a nine-year low two weeks ago and the highest price since October.

The bid for a seat is $1.1 million and the offer is $1.8 million, the NYSE said in a statement. The $975,000 sale of a seat on Jan. 11 was the first below $1 million since 1995.

Seat prices have fallen by more than half since their August 1999 peak of $2.65 million as the Securities and Exchange Commission rewrites rules governing trading and NYSE Chief Executive Officer John Thain develops a hybrid plan to mesh electronic and manual trading.

Monsanto acquiring seed company Seminis

Agricultural biotechnology giant Monsanto Co. will buy vegetable and fruit seed company Seminis Inc. for about $1 billion in cash, broadening its portfolio of seeds and tapping into the trend of healthier diets, the companies said yesterday.

Monsanto said it will assume an additional $400 million in debt by Seminis, a supplier of more than 3,500 seed varieties to commercial fruit and vegetable growers, dealers, distributors and wholesalers in more than 150 countries.

Monsanto - already staking more of its future on seeds that include genetically modified ones able to better withstand weeds, insects and disease - said it also would make up to $125 million in "performance-based payments" to Seminis' current owners if Seminis achieved certain revenue-growth targets.

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

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