Lawyer tracks Qwest
$83,821 shortfall in fund has been repaid but not explained, he says
By Ross Wehner, Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 8, 2005
Curtis Kennedy, the scrappy lawyer for the US West Retirees Association, knows phone companies and their employee pension funds.
Kennedy sued US West - now Qwest - in 1994. Four years later he forced the Bell to refund $8 million that had been improperly charged to the pension fund for company administrative expenses.
Kennedy is now claiming a smaller victory after a three-year federal investigation found that Qwest misused $83,821 in pension funds.
"During the period the (U.S. Department of Labor) reviewed, from 1996 to 2000, the trust distributed billions of dollars to beneficiaries, largely to retirees and their families," Qwest spokesman Bob Toevs said. The department's audit "deals with a relatively small amount of money," he said.
Qwest has already repaid the money, plus $16,097 in interest. Kennedy found out this month when he received a letter from the Department of Labor stating that the amount had been paid and the case closed.
Kennedy heard rumors about the investigation in February 2004 and immediately filed a request for public records under the Freedom of Information Act. When his request was rejected, he sued the Department of Labor in June 2004 to force them to hand over the documents.
He received the first stack of 4,500 pages in December and is awaiting another 1,500 pages that should reveal how Qwest spent the $83,821.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Johnson, who is representing the Department of Labor in Denver federal court, says he must first review the pages for trade secrets, personnel files or other possible Freedom of Information Act exemptions. He hopes to send them to Kennedy by the end of the month.
"We will find out about the $83,000," said Kennedy, who has sued US West and Qwest 60 times in 22 years. "When it comes to pensions, you can't depend on the government, and you certainly can't rely on the fox guarding the chicken house."
Qwest's pension plan stood at $9.1 billion at the end of 2004, with liabilities of $8.7 billion. Between 1999 and 2002, when other corporate pensions suffered from the tech bust, Qwest's pension went from a $4 billion surplus to approximately $300 million in debt.
Staff writer Ross Wehner can be reached at email@example.com or 303-820-1503.