Nacchio's worried, he won't show it
By Al Lewis,
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
It's an image nobody captured on camera: Former Qwest CEO
Joe Nacchio was led into a federal courtroom Tuesday wearing
He had spent most of the day in federal custody, just across
the street from the Qwest tower, where he once had an
expansive view of the Rocky Mountains from the 52nd floor.
The handcuffs, and a missing belt and tie, were the only
signs of Nacchio's brief detention.
His pressed white shirt and dark navy slacks did not succumb
to wrinkles in the holding tank. And, as he scanned faces
in the gallery, his bright, inquisitive eyes did not appear
to reveal contrition or despair.
After a federal officer removed his cuffs, Nacchio sat
quietly beside his two lawyers and calmly folded his hands
on the table. He cracked a smile or two after surrendering
his passport and signing documents to be released on a $2
million personal-recognizance bond.
Then, it was back to the handcuffs and out the prisoner door
to be processed for release.
Nacchio did not look comfortable. But all things
considered, he did not look perturbed, either. If anything,
he looked like a man who was certain of his innocence and
that the handcuffs would not be on for very long.
After the hearing, Nacchio's attorney Herbert Stern promised
reporters his client would be exonerated.
Read the 42-count indictment, and you will see why this case
is so thin, said Stern, a friendly man who was renowned in
the 1970s for battling New Jersey government corruption as a
prosecutor and judge.
The indictment can be viewed as either stingy on details or
elegant in its simplicity. Each of the 42 counts lists a
stock sale Nacchio made between January and May 2001 and
fits on a single line across the page. There are also about
five pages that allege Nacchio was aware of Qwest's downward
trajectory at the time of these trades.
After Nacchio got his tie and belt back, his demeanor
changed from calm and reserved to jovial.
"I look forward to us getting on with this," he told
reporters outside the court building after his release.
After more than three years since he departed from Qwest, he
said he finally knows the exact charges he is facing.
In June, attorneys representing Nacchio against a Securities
and Exchange Commission civil action argued that he was
guilty only of being optimistic about his company, or maybe
even engaging in a little "puffery."
Nacchio was famous for puffery, particularly when it came to
questions about his performance and pay.
"I should be allowed to make more than a second baseman,"
Nacchio famously told reporters at Qwest's annual meeting of
shareholders in 2001. "I create more economic value than
I don't know where that economic value is today.
But even after Qwest had to restate $2.5 billion in
revenues, put up $400 million to settle shareholder suits
and pay $250 million to settle charges from the SEC, Nacchio
apparently hasn't learned his lesson about puffery.
Denver Post reporter Tom McGhee approached Nacchio at Denver
International Airport on Monday evening to ask him what he
was doing in Denver.
"I'm going to be skiing," said Nacchio.
And why did he take a commercial flight? (Hmm. Was it
perhaps because the FBI and federal prosecutors considered
him a flight risk on a private jet?)
"I always flew commercial," Nacchio told McGhee.
Well, not always.
Nacchio's employment contract at Qwest gave him virtually
unfettered use of the company jets. Qwest even paid for air
travel for his family between New Jersey, where Nacchio kept
his home, and Denver, where he worked.
I suppose that Nacchio "always flew commercial" when he
wasn't flying on private aircraft. And perhaps, when
Nacchio spoke with McGhee, he fully intended to hit the
But then that FBI arrest kind of got in his way. And it's
hard to ski with handcuffs.
Al Lewis' column
regularly appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Respond
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