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Business digest

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 28, 2001


TIMES MARKETING VENTURE: The St. Petersburg Times has entered into a direct marketing venture with ADVO Inc. Terms were not disclosed. The venture, which combines direct mail with newspaper distribution, will reach 60,000 homes in Citrus County initially and may be expanded. ADVO, known for its ShopWise mailer, is the nation's largest direct mail marketing company.

ASSETS FROZEN: The Treasury Department has frozen two bank accounts of an Internet company because it received an investment from the wife of a top political leader of the Hamas terrorist group. InfoCom Corp., an Internet service provider that was under investigation by federal anti-terrorism agents before the Sept. 11 attacks, received a $250,000 investment in 1993 by Nadia Elashi Marzouk. Her husband, Moussa Abu Marzouk, is deputy of the Hamas political bureau in Syria. A lawyer for InfoCom said the company has no connection to Hamas or similar groups. InfoCom sells computer equipment and operates Web sites for Islamic groups in the United States and the Middle East.

ICAHN UNIT CUTS BACK: LowestFare.com, an Internet travel company owned by financier Carl Icahn, stopped selling airline tickets for U.S. flights after cutting 460 jobs because of slow bookings after the terrorist attacks. The company is continuing to sell tickets for international flights, along with hotel, cruise, and vacation package bookings. The company also has closed its Fort Lauderdale office, a spokeswoman said.

OPEC MAINTAINS PRODUCTION: OPEC members agreed to continue pumping oil at current levels of production and forgo an immediate cut in output despite a dramatic drop in oil prices since the terror attacks on the United States. Representatives of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries plan to reconvene Nov. 14 to review market conditions and could cut output at that time if necessary. OPEC's official output is 23.2-million barrels a day.

HEALTH CARE DISPUTE: Pediatric Health Care Alliance, a network of 38 pediatricians in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties, is terminating its contract with Cigna HealthCare of Florida on Dec. 1. The doctors' group said Cigna has not increased its reimbursement rates since 1998 and that its rates are below other insurers in the market. A Cigna spokesman did not return a call, but the two sides are scheduled to meet to discuss the termination. About 10,000 of Pediatric Health Care Alliance's 100,000 patients are insured by Cigna and would have to find new doctors or new insurance if the termination becomes effective. Among local employers offering Cigna are Verizon, the Hillsborough County School Board and the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office.

ENERGY DEAL: Reliant Resources Inc. agreed to buy Orion Power Holdings Inc. for $4.7-billion in cash and assumed debt. The deal allows Reliant, the power-producing and trading arm of Reliant Energy Inc., to boost its U.S. generating capacity 46 percent.

WEISS REMAINS IN AUSTRIA: Austrian courts have refused to extradite Sholam Weiss, a New York businessman facing a sentence of 845 years in prison for his role in an insurance fraud scheme. The courts instead plan to try Weiss in Austria, where the maximum sentence would be 10 years. In 1999, an Orlando federal jury found Weiss, 47, guilty of pocketing $125-million from the National Heritage Life Insurance Co.

INSIDER TRADING CHARGES: The Securities and Exchange Commission is accusing a former Citibank vice president and three others of trading on inside information ahead of Citigroup Inc.'s $27-billion purchase of Associates First Capital Corp. All four men have agreed to settle the SEC charges without admitting or denying wrongdoing by returning illegal profits and paying civil penalties. David Kenneth Tomney, a former attorney and vice president in Citibank's corporate tax group, allegedly made $11,600 in illegal profits by purchasing Associates stock a day before the deal was revealed.

THEME PARKS CUT BACK: Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando have joined Walt Disney World in cutting back the hours of workers following a steep attendance drop since the terrorist attacks. Universal Orlando, which has two theme parks -- Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure -- reduced the hours of 1,500 part-time workers and told some not to report to work until business picks up. In addition, some of Universal's 10,500 full-time employees have had their hours cut back. Sea World has decided to open some parts of the park later in the morning and will close an hour earlier on weeknights and weekends.

NEW VENTURE FOR ENTREPRENEUR: Tom E. Wallace, a Tampa entrepreneur who co-founded Brainbuzz.com and sold another tech company to Ikon Office Solutions, has joined a local e-mail marketing company. Wallace is chief executive of MarketSmart Technologies, a five-year old company formerly known as Philotek Inc. MarketSmart provides permission-based, e-mail marketing campaigns. It is partnering with Cable & Wireless, which provides infrastructure assistance. Wallace, who has invested in a handful of local tech companies, has made an undisclosed investment in Market-Smart.

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