Former Qwest CEO Reflects on Prison Life
By Al Lewis
A DOW JONES NEWSWIRES COLUMN
Friday, May 07, 2010
A reader called, disappointed that no one published a photo of former Qwest (Q: 5.13, -0.08, -1.54%) CEO Joe Nacchio making a rare court appearance this week after a year in a prison on insider trading convictions.
"I'm bothered by the amount of money he took away from that company and the way it went under," he said, "and I'd love to see him looking like the prisoner he is."
Sorry. No cameras in federal court. But let me say that Nacchio looked better than ever. And may I add, exceptional for 60? And dare I also add spectacular, for a guy who couldn't remember whether it was eight or nine days that he'd just spent in solitary confinement?
Nacchio appeared in a Denver U.S. District Court with a shaved head. But even Mimi Hull, president of a Qwest retirees association, agreed with my assessment that Nacchio has a nicely shaped noggin. Nacchio's bald-headed court appearance also put to rest the enduring 'Qwestion' of whether he wore a rug, got frequent hair plugs, or just had enviable hair.
sported a khaki jumpsuit with "BOP ENG" printed on the back, or
Bureau of Prisons,
He'd grown a handsome goatee, lost weight, and gotten into shape. He still wore fashionable glasses and a jovial, self-assured smile. He still had a spring in his step, even while wearing handcuffs and blue, slip-on shoes with flimsy white soles. And he said he took Buspar, a psychoactive drug often prescribed for anxiety and sometimes for depression.
Denver-based Qwest Communications International Inc. is about to become history, its name disappearing in a merger with Monroe, La.-based CenturyLink. Nacchio will always be part of that history.
Appearing fully adapted to prison life, the
"Everybody I've ever met in prison fell into a difficult situation," he told the court, "and it's certainly been tough on my family and myself.. That's my world now, and I'm going to make the best of it."
He broke into tears, talking about his 92-year-old mother. She watched him graduate from MIT Sloan School of Management, rise through the ranks of AT&T Corp., grow Qwest into a Fortune 500 company through a merger with US West, and now she's in her twilight years watching this.
Nacchio was sentenced to six years in prison, ordered to forfeit $52 million from stock trades, and to pay $19 million in fines. He tried to fight the charges all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. But now his only remaining victory is an appeal he won last year saying the court erred on his sentence.
Nacchio, through his attorney, tried to waive his right to
attend a resentencing hearing. But U.S. District Judge Marcia
Krieger said she wanted to hear it straight from his mouth. She
ordered him up from the Federal Correctional
"I've been in solitary confinement eight or nine days," Nacchio told the court. "This is not a short trip."
Nacchio said he doesn't want to be away from the prison routine he's developed or the people who have come to rely on him.
His wife visits every two weeks or so. His elderly mother visits when she can. His two brothers are not in good health. And Nacchio told the court he's trying to provide them with the emotional support they are also providing him.
"I've been in prison a year and they don't have a single infraction against me," Nacchio said, maintaining a polite and respectful tone throughout his five-minute address.
He said he's become the only Catholic Eucharist minister in the prison camp. He is even planning on giving one inmate his first communion. And when he's not at the prison, there are no Sunday services.
It was not easy for some people in the gallery to hear this.
Curtis Kennedy, an attorney who represents Qwest retirees, many who have lost life savings, said he found the whole spectacle odd.
Nacchio was only required to show that he fully understood what it meant to wave his rights to appear. He was not required to give reasons.
"We're going to call him Padre Nacchio from now on," Kennedy quipped. "That was unreal.. It was obviously staged that he would try to portray himself as the sole savior in the prison."
Stranger things have happened in prison than an inmate taking his first communion from a long-embattled telecom executive. And Nacchio has always engaged those around him.
"I've met better people in prison than people I used to work with," he told the court.
Perhaps he was only trying to elevate fellow inmates. But
don't know why he would say that,"
Nacchio has defended his innocence at every turn. His pending resentencing provides yet another opportunity for "allocution," a legal term for explaining or even admitting wrongdoing.
"I'm not going to allocate," Nacchio told the court.
So call him Padre Nacchio all you want. But he isn't going to confession.