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Nacchio trial's veil may be lifting
The illegal insider-trading case against the ex-CEO of Qwest is opening proceedings to the public as security issues are dealt with.
By Andy Vuong, Staff Writer
Denver Post
Friday, January 19, 2007

After a series of closed-door hearings, the cloud of secrecy over the criminal insider-trading case against former Qwest chief executive Joe Nacchio could be lifting.

U.S. District Judge Edward Nottingham has scheduled a trial preparation conference for March 1, at which time the parties will have to submit their witness lists.  The conference is expected to be open to the public.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys also are required to submit proposed jury questions today, according to a court filing Thursday.

The closed hearings have been to review classified information that Nacchio's attorneys plan to use to defend him against 42 counts of illegal insider trading connected to his sale of $101 million in Qwest stock in early 2001.  Nacchio faces up to 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine for each count.

Prosecutors allege he knew the company's finances were faltering.  Nacchio, who left the company in mid-2002, has denied any wrongdoing.

The trial is slated to begin March 19 and could last up to 7 1/2 weeks.

Nacchio's attorneys have said they want to use classified information to argue that Nacchio had a rosy outlook for Qwest in early 2001 because he knew the company was in line to receive large government contracts.

Nottingham has held four closed-door hearings with prosecutors and defense attorneys to discuss classified information, including three closed hearings since setting the trial date in August.

"You would normally have a series of discovery hearings that would be done in public over issues like what evidence would be admitted at the trial," said William Mitchelson, a former federal prosecutor.

Mitchelson, now a white-collar criminal defense lawyer with Alston & Bird in Atlanta, said there's still a lot to be done publicly over the next two months, but it appears the case is on track to begin in March.

"They're having these hearings on a track that would still allow the parties to get to trial on the scheduled date," Mitchelson said.

Nottingham has ordered the government to disclose by Feb. 5 any information it may have that may clear Nacchio of guilt.

Nottingham has also scheduled biweekly telephone status conferences with the parties beginning Jan. 26.

Jeff Dorschner, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Denver, said he didn't know whether those conferences would be open to the public.

Staff writer Andy Vuong can be reached at 303-954-1209 or avuong@denverpost.com.

http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_5041344