The Association of U S West Retirees



Dark shades, light detail 
By Al Lewis, Staff Columnist 
Denver Post
Friday, April 6, 2007
Famously reclusive billionaire Phil Anschutz remained famously reclusive in federal court Thursday.

He slipped into the courthouse before 6:45 a.m., avoiding news photographers who arrived too late to capture his entrance.  He remained out of sight until he was called to the stand about 9:40 a.m. in the insider-trading trial of former Qwest chief executive Joe Nacchio.

The shadowy Qwest founder, who hired Nacchio in 1997, strode into the courtroom jiggling a bottle of water, looking scrappy and fit despite his graying hair and 67 years.  Once on the stand, he became as bland and diminutive as a billionaire could possibly be -- except for the red power tie around his neck.

Anschutz's direct testimony lasted less than 15 minutes.  His cross-examination lasted about 30 minutes.

Nacchio's case is going so well, he doesn't really need Anschutz to step up for him.  But Nacchio's lawyer, Herbert Stern, had promised the jury they would hear from Anschutz, which was probably why he was there.

In the past, Anschutz wasn't there.  In the fall of 2002, telecom executives -- including Nacchio -- were dragged before Congress en masse to explain how they got so rich as their companies imploded.  Anschutz -- who by now has made about $3 billion from his investment in Qwest -- was unconventionally permitted to answer these questions by phone.

Not Thursday.  There he was.  The wizard from behind the curtain, and every bit as disappointing as the one from Oz.  In a monotone, Anschutz told the court how he built Qwest from railroad rights of way and hired Nacchio to run it.

Defense attorney John Richilano seemed most interested in asking Anschutz about a meeting Anschutz had with Nacchio in December 2001 after Nacchio's son attempted suicide.

"He was quite agitated by it," Anschutz said.  "In fact, he broke down in tears. ... He then said, 'Phil, I want to resign.' ... I was quite surprised at the news of his son and was further surprised ... that he would want to resign from the company."

"An improved state of mind"

To keep Nacchio from leaving, Qwest's board offered him a raise, a bonus and 5 million more stock options.

A couple of weeks after their initial conversation, Nacchio "seemed to be in an improved state of mind," Anschutz said.

I'm not sure what this testimony does for Nacchio's case.  Does it mean Nacchio was so disturbed about his son that he needed to quit, but then Qwest offered him more stock options, so he stayed?

Anschutz was Qwest's founder and sat on the board with two employees of his investment company.  But I have never heard Anschutz take responsibility for what happened there.  Maybe it's because he can't.  There are too many lawyers out there ready to pounce on his every word.  Thursday would be no different.

On cross-examination, Anschutz reminded the court that he was the "nonexecutive chairman of the board."  What did that mean?

"I had no salary, and I had no incentives, and I had no duties.  It was really ceremonial," he told the court.

Qwest turned out to be a ceremony that parted thousands of other investors from their money.  In the end, nobody made more dough from Nacchio's tenure as CEO than Anschutz.

There are so many questions we would like answered by the wizard of Qwest -- such as his take on the insider-trading issues at stake.  But rules of procedure allowed prosecutor Cliff Stricklin only to inquire about Anschutz's testimony.

"Your Honor, we're now going way beyond the scope.  Direct examination was very limited," defense attorney Richilano said in one of his objections during Stricklin's questioning.

Stricklin got Anschutz to tell the jury that it was Nacchio who ran the company and that it was Nacchio who decided what to tell Wall Street -- facts that won't help Nacchio but serve to further extricate Anschutz from the mess.

Other than that, Anschutz hardly had to say a thing.  Soon, the reclusive billionaire was out the door, dark sunglasses hiding his eyes.  Several suited men, most likely his lawyers, escorted him to a silver Audi station wagon, making camera angles difficult, though not impossible, for news photographers.

For a brief time, the wizard was not behind his curtain.  And he told us nothing.

Al Lewis' column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Respond to him at, 303-954-1967 or alewis@