LEGAL: WEX Bank ordered to pay penalty in student aid deception

WEX Bank, a subsidiary of the South Portland payment processing company WEX Inc., has been fined $1.75 million and ordered to pay a share of $31 million in restitution to 900,000 customers for its role in deceiving college students about financial aid disbursements.

WEX Bank signed a settlement agreement with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the federal agency that insures deposits at financial institutions around the country, on Wednesday.

As part of the settlement, WEX has agreed to pay the fine and will jointly pay the $31 million restitution with Higher One, a Connecticut company that is affiliated with WEX Bank and provides disbursement services for students, according to the FDIC. Higher One has agreed to pay a $2.23 million penalty for its part in the deception. Read the story.

Payments to Lac-Megantic victims ready

Disbursements from a settlement fund to compensate the families of victims of the horrific explosion and fire that killed 47 people in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic will start in the new year, according to the bankruptcy trustee who has overseen the two-year process.

Robert J. Keach, of the Portland-based law firm Bernstein Shur, said Tuesday that the $460 million (Canadian) settlement fund is ready to make payments to the families of victims of the July 2013 disaster caused when a runaway train pulling 72 oil tankers derailed and crashed in the community’s downtown.

Keach is the Chapter 11 trustee for Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway Ltd. and Richter Advisory Group Inc., and is the monitor in the case for Montreal Maine & Atlantic Canada. Starting this week, trustees will transfer about $114 million to a trust benefiting holders of wrongful death claims, according to a Bernstein Shur news release. Read the story.

RETAIL: Online reviews point to smear campaign

Several beer and wine stores in Portland have been targeted in a smear campaign on Facebook, prompting the social media powerhouse to launch an investigation into potentially fraudulent activity.

On Thursday, a few profiles left one-star reviews on the pages of local retailers such as Bier Cellar, RSVP Discount Beverage, Rosemont Market and Bakery, Craft Beer Cellar and Old Port Wine Merchant.

Dozens of other one-star reviews have been posted since, leading to arguments about the reviews and who is responsible for them. The ruckus has erupted into a social media back-and-forth and came to the attention of Facebook, which is investigating.

Social media experts said the kerfuffle offers a cautionary talk about protecting online reputations and performing due diligence on companies hired to create a company’s social media presence. Read the story.

REAL ESTATE: Maine home sales outperform regional averages

November home sales were up more than 20 percent in Maine compared with a year earlier, out-pacing other increases in New England by a wide margin.

The Maine Association of Realtors on Tuesday reported a 22.7 percent jump in sales of existing, detached single-family homes compared with November 2014.

The median sale price for existing homes also continued its upward trend, rising 4.4 percent to $180,000 compared with a year earlier. Industry officials said mild weather and threats of rising interest rates have helped, but mostly the activity reflects the release of pent-up demand. Read the story.

MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS: Massachusetts company to buy Portland tech firm

Kepware Technologies, a Portland-based software development firm, is being bought for $100 million by a Massachusetts firm that specializes in analyzing data captured by Internet-connected devices.

PTC Inc., based in Needham, Massachusetts, filed a notice of the impending sale with the Securities and Exchange Commission Wednesday morning. Kepware, founded in 1995, develops software for the industrial automation industry, essentially providing the code that allows industrial machinery to communicate with other software applications.

The purchase will enhance PTC’s entry into factory settings and industrial “Internet of Things,” a phrase referring to the network connectivity of all things so they may send and receive data, according to a news release from PTC. Kepware expects to maintain its Maine operation and staffing. Read the story.

Cross Insurance adds Boston firm

Cross Insurance of Bangor has acquired Boston-based insurance agency Knapp Schenck & Co. for an undisclosed sum, the company said Monday.

Cross, a subsidiary of Cross Financial Corp. and one of the largest independent insurance providers in New England, said that under the purchase agreement, Knapp Schenck will retain its name and continue to operate with the same staff and leadership. The firm will continue to operate out of its headquarters in Boston’s financial district, and from its branch office in Braintree, Massachusetts.

Founded in 1921, Knapp Schenck is large, regional property and casualty retail insurance agency that provides insurance services to both commercial and individual clients. Read the story.

Biddeford bakery passes to fourth generation

Management of a longtime Biddeford bakery will pass to the fourth generation of the Reilly family at the first of the year.

On Dec. 29, Michael Reilly’s 65th birthday, he will put away his rolling pin at precisely 10 a.m. – the time he was born – and retire from full-time work at the family baking business he has owned since 1983.

The family has owned the bakery since 1910. Reilly’s daughter and son-in-law, Elizabeth and Kevin Hussey, who represent the fourth generation, will be taking over management of the old-fashioned bakery. They’ll celebrate with an open house retirement party from 1-4 p.m. on Jan. 2. Read the story.

Kennebec Technologies to become employee-owned

On Monday, President Charles “Wick” Johnson announced to Kennebec Technologies’ 65 employees that rather than selling to an outside entity, he is, in effect, selling it to them via employee stock ownership plan. Johnson has been working with members of the Augusta company’s senior management on the conversion, which will take effect Jan. 1.

After the changeover, company operations should look essentially the same to both employees and customers. Johnson and his senior management will remain in place.

The employee stock ownership plan will cover 100 percent of the company’s shares and will allocate a portion of them to employees every year. On their retirement, employees can sell the shares back to the plan. Read the story.

MANUFACTURING: Norway spruce tested for commercial market at UMaine lab

The University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center is testing thousands of boards from Norway spruce over the next month to see if the species can be used as commercial grade lumber.

It’s the first time a new species of tree has been tested for commercial use in 80 according to the Northeast Lumber Manufacturers Association, which is based in Yarmouth.

The Norway spruce trees were among the estimated 3 billion trees planted around the country during the Great Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps, an effort of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s to put people back to work.

The CCC workers planted the trees to reclaim abandoned farmland, and used primarily Norway spruce in the Northeast and Great Lakes region.

In Maine, most of the trees were planted in Aroostook County, but there are significant plantations of the non-native species in nearly half a dozen counties, a potential new source for Maine’s wood products industry. Read the story.