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"I watched them put it on. You can figure out how to get it off." --Martha Stewart, describing the monitoring device on her ankle to Vanity Fair One of the world's biggest spammers may face time in the slammer. On June 30, federal authorities arrested Christopher Smith (aka "Rizler") of Burnsville, Minn., after he stepped off a plane in Minneapolis. Smith, 25, was returning from the Dominican Republic, where he went in May after an FBI raid seized $4.2 million in assets, including a fleet of luxury cars.
Experts call Smith one of the 10 most prolific spammers. Gregg Mastoras of software firm Sophos says Smith sent more than 1 billion e-mail pitches for things like fake college degrees and hair-growth products, eventually building a chain of Web sites staffed by an 85-person office. The Feds allege that Smith kept operating from overseas under an alias, making $18 million this year alone selling medications without proper prescriptions or a medical license. He's charged with criminal contempt of a court order and could face up to six months in jail. Smith's lawyer, Joe Friedberg, was unavailable for immediate comment. After its latest redesign, the replacement for the twin towers in Manhattan is no doubt safer. But that may not calm the nerves of office workers. Real estate pros say they fear the Freedom Tower's 1,776-foot height and its symbolic value could scare away tenants. Prior to the redesign, which includes a 200-foot-high concrete base, 11% of employers, developers, and service providers surveyed by trade group CoreNet Global said their employees would feel unsafe working at the site; 51% were unsure. Several wrote anonymously that they would be unlikely to lease space unless the height was cut to match surrounding buildings. The redesign doesn't completely dispel those fears, says Gerard Vanella, a Manhattan real estate consultant: "I think corporations are going to be hesitant to go into that space while there is such unrest in the world."
Some firms may feel differently if the price is right. New York's legislature approved a $5-per-square-foot rent subsidy for early tenants, which will be matched by developer Larry Silverstein. That's a big discount on New York's average $40 rents. This is one case where "Location, location, location" may need the further amenity of cold, hard cash. New York officials show no mercy in their bid to protect the "I ?? New York" logo. The trademark, supplied free of charge by graphic designer Milton Glaser in 1976, helps beckon 140 million tourists to the Empire State each year. As others tried to tap the design over the years, state legal eagles have filed close to 3,000 trademark objections.
Apparel company 4 KAMM International is incensed at New York's pending effort to halt the use of "I ??" SF, Las Vegas, and Paris on everything from bumper stickers to calendars. Last year, New York shut down "I ?? Yoga" T-shirts produced by a Florida Bikram yoga outfit. And in October, the U.S. Trademark & Patent Office is expected to hear a case filed by Michael Stewart, a clothing designer in Raleigh, N.C., challenging New York's opposition to "I ?? NC."
Lawyers say Stewart's case is stronger than most because of coloring differences and a change in the heart's look. New York says this is about protecting a logo, not upping licensing fees, which totaled $900,000 in the past five years. "We aren't in the business of taking apologies," says Jonathan Faber, a lawyer at Collins, McDonald & Gann, which represents the state. MSN may edge out Google (GOOG
) and Yahoo! (YHOO
) in one area: blocking porn. A Government Accountability Office study comparing how well the three top engines (with filters activated) screen out sexually explicit images declared MSN the most effective. They were ranked based on the number of suggestive images returned on keyword searches of three "innocuous" names popular with kids (Hilary Duff, the Simpsons, Harry Potter) and three words "known to be associated with pornography" that a GAO spokesperson declined to specify. At The Journey, an evangelical Christian congregation in Manhattan catering to young professionals, Sunday services are based on biblical themes that Pastor Nelson Searcy says are apparent in Hollywood films. In June, Mr. and Mrs. Smith was the basis for a discussion on the importance of honesty in marriage; Batman Begins prompted a message about new beginnings. "If Jesus were here in our day and he wanted to teach a truth, he would not be afraid to show a movie clip," Searcy says. The God on Film program has spread to nine other churches nationwide. Hollywood, suffering a dismal summer, might take notice. Thomas Ryan may seem out of place as funeral giant Service Corp. International's (SCI
) new CEO. In an industry of gray-haired morticians, he's a 39-year-old ex-accountant. But since rising from the No. 2 job in February, he has injected new life into Houston-based SCI. In the past, Ryan says, "we've placed a lot of emphasis on the product" -- such as high-priced caskets that now sell cheaply online -- "and essentially given away the service." So he hired outsiders to help study customers and fix marketing. He wants funeral directors to focus on customer needs, whether a nontraditional "end-of-life" ceremony or emotional counseling for families.
Ryan will have his hands full. Consumer groups sued recently, claiming SCI and other giants collude to keep out discounters. Ryan denies that but says he's investigating. Meantime, even as boomers age, death rates are slowing. Still, Ryan has kept SCI a step ahead of the Grim Reaper: Funeral revenues rose 4.7% in the first quarter. Lexus buyers have come to expect such amenities as heated seats and navigation systems. Now add to the list: premium parking spaces. For the past year the car company has provided exclusive parking lots for Lexus owners at the Atlanta Braves' Turner Field and the Office Depot Center in Sunrise, Fla.
At the Office Depot Center, home to the NHL's Florida Panthers, the first 200 Lexus drivers attending any concert or NHL game park for free in a centrally located Lexus Lot, courtesy of five southern Florida car dealers that each pay about $10,000 a year. At Turner Field, Lexus owners pay $10, the standard stadium rate, but it's for one of the 200 to 300 spots in the lot closest to the front gate. They also enjoy free barbecue and other giveaways. For the Lexus dealers, there are obvious marketing benefits. Mike Brumm, Lexus' southern area merchandising manager, estimates that as many as 35,000 fans walk past the lot during a sold-out game.
The lots are routinely filled to capacity, which has Lexus thinking of expanding the concept. It is working out details to provide Lexus-only parking at the U.S. Open tennis tournament, which the company is sponsoring in New York in early September, and the U.S. leg of Paul McCartney's fall concert tour. Lexus also plans to repeat the deals it struck last holiday season for free valet parking at upscale malls in Houston, Dallas, and Atlanta. For the well-heeled driver, a prime parking spot is money in the bank. It's one of the first rules of computer security: Unless you want your ID heisted from St. Petersburg, Fla., to St. Petersburg, Russia, don't give credit-card numbers to people who send e-mails asking for them. That's why Portland (Ore.) PR exec Brad Brenner was stunned to get an e-mail on June 13 asking him to visit a Web site and give a new card number to renew his subscription -- from leading security outfit McAfee. "I might under-stand a small mom-and-pop company making this mistake, but McAfee?" he says.
As it happens, Brenner buys an annual plan from McAfee for access to Web-based virus protection software, and his card was expiring. A McAfee spokeswoman confirmed it sent the e-mail. She said company research shows most consumers prefer being contacted this way about renewals and expirations.
No harm done. But days after Brenner verified the e-mail was real -- and renewed -- he got another e-mail from McAfee. The pitch: for software to protect him from identity theft.