awakening' for Nacchio
Humbling existence likely awaits former Qwest CEO in any prison
By Jeff Smith
Rocky Mountain News
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
Former Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio might not encounter violence in
prison, but he faces tedious days devoid of any of the control
and amenities he once took for granted. "I've worked with a lot
of white-collar offenders," said Shakeerah Marhefka, assistant
director of Federal Prison Consultants of Wilmington, Del.
"When they come from money and from running a company, a lot of
them are very arrogant. Well, he's going to have a rude
A highly regimented schedule with strict, petty rules. Menial
jobs with little variety, paying 12 cents to 40 cents an hour.
Telephone calls limited to 300 minutes a month. No e-mail,
Internet access or gadgets like an iPod or BlackBerry.
And these are the conditions inside a minimum-security federal
prison camp. Nacchio can expect worse if he gets assigned to a
higher security prison instead -- and it could be a close call,
experts said. Nacchio's Colorado attorney John Richilano
declined to comment for this article.
Nacchio is scheduled to be sentenced in the U.S. District Court
of Colorado on July 27, after being convicted this spring on 19
counts of insider trading.
Nacchio's legal team is working hard behind the scenes to
mitigate his sentence. His attorneys also made fresh motions
Monday for acquittal, a new trial and change of venue, and have
hired an appellate specialist to try to overturn the conviction.
Insider-trading sentences are driven in large part by the amount
of money involved in the crime. Nacchio was found guilty on 19
counts totaling $52 million of Qwest stock sales in April and
"That's a big number," said John Webster, managing director of
National Prison and Sentencing Consultants, based in Providence,
R.I. It will help that Nacchio was acquitted on 23 counts,
Being a model citizen won't help much either way, Webster said.
"Every one of these guys had a squeaky clean background --
(Enron's) Ken Lay, Martha Stewart. A lot of people think you
get a free pass because you're a first-time offender, but it
doesn't work that way."
Experts have speculated that Nacchio will be sentenced to around
10 years in prison, plus or minus a few years. Federal Bureau
of Prisons spokeswoman Felicia Ponce said there's no rule on
where to designate a convicted felon based on his sentence.
Rather, it will depend on a variety of factors.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons tries to place prisoners within
500 miles of their primary residence, she said. The Nacchios
have multimillion-dollar homes in Mendham, N.J., and Jupiter,
Fla., and could designate either location as their preference.
Marhefka said there's a "big possibility" Nacchio will get an
unfenced, dormitory-style federal prison camp if he's sentenced
to 12 years or less. Webster was a bit more skeptical and put
the magic number at roughly 10 years.
Former Enron Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling, who was sentenced
to 24 years, is in a low-security prison in Minnesota. Former
WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers is serving 25 years in a
medium-security prison in Louisiana.
Nacchio probably has hired specialists to help him get into a
minimum-security prison camp, experts said. Still, even a
prison camp will be a big adjustment, consultants say.
"There really aren't any Club Feds anymore," Webster said. "The
day is highly regulated," and the consequences can be severe for
Marhefka said Nacchio won't be able to take family photos with
him, and normally won't be able to call his family the first two
weeks while he undergoes orientation. He may also have to wait
up to a week to 10 days to get medication, she said.
"I advise clients to buy a cheap Timex watch, and wear white
sneakers, white pants, a white T-shirt." He may be able to wear
a religious necklace and may be allowed to bring some money with
him, she said. If not, his family can wire money to him.
She said Nacchio will have to buy all his personal items, such
as deodorant, underwear and socks, from the prison commissary.
Meals are at set times, beginning at 6 a.m. each day. Phone
calls and mail are monitored. In some crowded prisons,
visitation is based on a point system.
For an executive used to taking charge, "the hardest adjustment
is their loss of control," Webster said. "They have no one and
every part of their day is controlled and regimented. The
second biggest adjustment is getting used to the abject
boredom. Prison is a very, very boring place."
Said Marhefka: "Once he goes to prison, he's just an inmate.
They won't care who he is, what kind of money he made."
Former executives like Nacchio, she added, "need to go in and
not discuss the crime and be humble -- because they are no
longer free and the federal government owns them."
Job opportunities at a typical prison camp are limited,
consisting mostly of orderly, food-service and maintenance
work. Many white-collar criminals prefer prisons on military
bases because they tend to offer more diverse jobs, such as
warehousing and clerical, Marhefka said. Some prisoners are
able to do jobs like tutoring or substance abuse work.
Safety shouldn't be a concern. "The only blood he's going to
see in a federal prison camp is if he cuts himself shaving,"
Webster said. "Altercations are more pushing and shoving, like
in a schoolyard. He won't be assaulted, he won't be raped.
None of those conditions occur in a federal prison camp."
If, however, Nacchio gets sent to a low- or medium-security
prison, the possibility of violence will go up.
Life in a federal prison camp Minimum security
• Toughest adjustment for former executives:
Loss of control, boredom; highly regimented days with meals
beginning at 6 a.m.
• Sleeping arrangements: Dormitory or
barrack-style rather than cells with bars
• Security: Little or no fencing
• Phone calls: 300-minute limit a month; calls
monitored, limited to 15 minutes each
• Visitation: Friday afternoons and evenings,
weekends until midafternoon
• Internet access: Not available; a few prison
pilot programs offer limited e-mail access.
• TV: Yes
• Books: Well-stocked libraries at most
prisons; books can be shipped in from publishing companies,
• Jobs: Not much variety -- orderly, food
service, maintenance; some prisons have more options, such as
warehousing, clerical jobs, tutoring; pay rates 12 to 40 cents
• Danger: Schoolyard-type skirmishes possible,
but violent attacks or sexual assaults as likely as in a
corporate office environment.
• Personal items: Deodorant, toothpaste,
underwear, etc., can be purchased at prison store; can buy a
radio with headset (but no iPod); limited spending of $290 a
• Money: Family can wire money
Sources: Federal Prison Consultants, National Prison
'Best' places to serve time in federal prison
Minimum security facilities, known as federal prison camps, are
usually best suited for disgraced CEOs and other white-collar
criminals. In theory, inmates in these camps show no risk of
violence or escape. Both shoe-mogul Steven Madden and Martha
Stewart are FPC alums. Prison camps have a relatively low
staff-to-inmate ratio, dormitory-style accommodations and little
to no fencing. Some minimum security facilities stand on their
own, but many are satellite facilities adjacent to larger and
more secure institutions, particularly low-security federal
Prisoner perks: Inmates can partake in Ashland's "wellness"
program, which focuses on nutrition, aerobic exercise and stress
Prisoner perks: Less than 30 miles from the Austin Airport,
Bastrop is convenient for visitors.
Prisoner perks: Dublin's "Bookmobile" service allows
inmates to keep up with their reading.
DULUTH, MINN. (formerly Duluth Air Force Base)
Prisoner perk: Duluth has several musical instruments for
inmate use, including a piano, drums and acoustic guitars.
ENGLEWOOD (in Littleton)
Prisoner perks: Prisoners can blow off steam by playing
pool, pingpong or foosball.
Prisoner perks: Inmates can stay in shape using Lompoc's
Prisoner perk: This stand-alone facility includes
vocational training to teach prisoners to be cooks,
housekeepers, paralegals and painters.
Prisoner perks: Jewish prisoners can enjoy one of the
biggest and most active religious programs at Otisville.
PENSACOLA, FLA. (Pensacola Naval Air Station)
Prisoner perk: Inmates can work on the base and interact
with Navy personnel during daylight hours.
Prisoner perks: Prisoners can study to be personal fitness
trainers or landscapers.
Prisoner perk: A track as well as a bocce pit, a basketball
court and several fields are available.
YANKTON, S.D. (formerly a college)
Prisoner perks: This stand-alone camp offers inmates music
lessons and intramural team sports.
Judge Edward Nottingham will sentence former Qwest CEO Joe
Nacchio on July 27, relying in part on the presentence
investigation report by a U.S. probation official. Nacchio's
team will try to keep him out of prison pending appeal, but he
could be ordered to begin serving time.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons will designate a prison,
considering the sentence, Nacchio's request, the judge's
recommendation and other factors. The goal, but not mandate, is
to place prisoners within 500 miles of their primary residence.
Nacchio has homes in New Jersey and Florida, and could designate
his preference for being close to either location.
Experts say the expected sentence of about 10 years, plus or
minus, could put Nacchio on the borderline between a
minimum-security federal prison camp and a higher security
smithje@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-954-5155