BUSINESS DIGEST

The Baltimore Sun

Maryland : Acquisitions

MuniMae buys land-fund firm

Municipal Mortgage & Equity LLC, the Baltimore company better known as MuniMae, announced yesterday that it has acquired the Sustainable Land Fund, an Owings Mills firm that arranges investments in land that provide conservation opportunities.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The Sustainable Land Fund, formed early last year, buys land and allows limited development while selling conservation credits to developers who need to offset the environmental impact of their projects.

MuniMae, a real estate financier, branched into financing solar and other renewable power projects last year.

Laura Smitherman

Davis Inotek to sell unit to Thermo Fisher

Baltimore-based Davis Inotek Instruments LLC, a manufacturer and distributor of test, measurement and control equipment, said yesterday that it has agreed to sell its instrument sales business to Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. of Waltham, Mass.

Terms of the agreement were not disclosed. The deal did not include the company's related calibration-services business. Davis Inotek will be renamed Davis Calibration to reflect the change. The instrument sales business had 2006 sales of $30 million, the Associated Press reported.

Davis Inotek is owned by JPB Enterprises, a Columbia-based private equity firm founded in 1995 by former W.R. Grace & Co. chief executive J.P. Bolduc.

Litigation

Court clears way for sex-bias lawsuit

A federal court in Baltimore has ruled that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission can proceed to trial with its sex-discrimination lawsuit against the former L.A. Weight Loss Centers Inc. on behalf of male job applicants nationwide, the federal agency said yesterday.

U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr. rejected the Horsham, Pa.-based weight loss company's motion to dismiss the case in his ruling last week.

The EEOC filed the lawsuit in February 2002, alleging that the company engaged in a pattern of discrimination against men in recruiting and hiring and in assignment of employees. The case also involves claims of retaliation. The alleged practice came to light when former Maryland employee Kathy Koch filed a complaint with the EEOC's office in Baltimore, claiming that she was disciplined and fired in retaliation for attempting to hire male applicants, according to the lawsuit. The company denies all charges.

Hanah Cho

Power generation

Thurmont ponders 'green' power plant

The town of Thurmont is considering building a power plant fueled by cow manure or cornstalks to provide electricity to its 6,000 residents, officials said yesterday. Town Clerk Richard May said Thurmont has contracted with consulting firm Energy Management Strategies to pursue grants for such a project. The reported goal is have the plant in operation in three to four years.

BGE offering rebates for energy efficiency

Baltimore Gas & Electric said yesterday it has launched two new programs that will pay homeowners rebates for investing in certain energy efficient appliances and light bulbs. Customers who buy clothes washers, freezers and refrigerators that carry the Energy Star designation - meaning they meet strict government energy efficiency standards - can earn rebates of $50 to $75. In addition, the utility has teamed with Home Depot, Costco and other retailers to cut the price of energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs. The programs were recently approved by the Maryland Public Service Commission. Information: www. bgesmartenergy.com.

Paul Adams

Nation

: Retailing

Walgreen to open 550 new stores in '08

Walgreen Co., the largest U.S. drugstore chain, will open 550 new stores next year to boost the number of prescriptions it fills. After closings and relocations, the retailer will have 475 new stores, Chief Operating Officer Gregory Wasson said yesterday at a retail conference in New York.

This column was compiled from dispatches by Sun reporters, the Associated Press and Bloomberg News.

Nation : Settlement

UnitedHealthcare to pay $12 million

UnitedHealthcare yesterday settled complaints about its past claims practices, agreeing to pay $12 million in fines to 36 states and the District of Columbia. The largest sum, about $4 million, is going to New York, where the health insurer covers about 1 million people. A joint investigation by insurance officials in the states found that the Minnetonka, Minn.-based insurer often applied incorrect fee schedules and deductibles, didn't promptly pay claims, and was generally unable to correct problems pointed out by regulators, New York state insurance officials said yesterday. Insurance officials in New York, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida and Iowa led the settlement negotiations. The company also agreed to meet benchmarks for improving its claims accuracy and timeliness, appeals and handling of consumer complaints, or face up to $8 million in additional fines.

Economy

Recession more likely, Fed figure says

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President William Poole said yesterday that he thought there was a higher chance of economic downturn in the United States as a result of recent market turmoil.

Poole said there was "no question" that financial woes would worsen conditions in the U.S. housing market, but that the effect on the broader economy was less clear. "I think the probability of recession is higher than it used to be," Poole said after a speech at the European Economics and Financial Centre in London. Poole is currently a voting member of the Federal Open Market Committee, which sets the bank's guiding interest rates.

Earnings

Jackson Hewitt's quarterly loss widens

Jackson Hewitt Tax Service Inc., the tax preparer that shut 125 offices accused of filing fraudulent returns, said its first-quarter loss widened to $19.6 million on costs related to the investigation. The net loss for the quarter ended July 31 was 65 cents a share, compared with a loss of $12.7 million, or 36 cents, a year earlier, the company said yesterday. The U.S. Justice Department sued Jackson Hewitt in April, accusing offices owned by a franchisee of submitting thousands of falsified returns.

World

: Courts

Hyundai chairman has term suspended

An appeals court suspended a three-year prison sentence for Hyundai Motor Co. Chairman Chung Mong-koo yesterday, saying the tycoon is too important to South Korea's economy to go to jail for embezzlement. A three-judge panel at the Seoul High Court suspended the sentence for five years, meaning that the 69-year-old head of the nation's biggest automaker will avoid prison as long as he keeps a clean record during that period. A lower court had sentenced Chung in February to three years for embezzling more than $100 million from the company to set up a slush fund.

Mittal Steel fined in price-fixing case

A South African tribunal yesterday ordered steel giant Mittal to pay about $96 million in fines, accusing it of price fixing. The fine followed a March ruling from South Africa's Competition Tribunal. The decision said that Mittal Steel South Africa had sold steel at a discount on condition that companies not pass the savings on to consumers in South Africa. Mittal Steel South Africa, part of the Mittal conglomerate that is merging with Arcelor, has appealed the ruling.

Mittal did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

This column was compiled from dispatches by the Associated Press and Bloomberg News.

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