The Association of U S West Retirees



Here it is, Joe: Feds didn't tip us
By Al Lewis, Staff Columnist
Denver Post
Friday, May 5, 2006

Joe Nacchio wants to know.

Where did 9News and Denver Post reporters get the tip that the former Qwest chief executive would step off United Airlines Flight 1229 from Newark, N.J., at Denver International Airport on Dec. 19?  Apparently, Nacchio expected more privacy as he traveled here to surrender on insider-trading charges to which he pleaded not guilty.

In motions filed this week, Nacchio's attorneys accuse government officials of tipping off the media.  But, as far as I know, the tip came from elsewhere.

"When Mr. Nacchio and his attorney exited the plane around 7:30 p.m. MST, a reporter and photographer were waiting at the gate -- inside the federally secured 'ticketed passengers only' zone of the airport -- and proceeded to literally chase them through the airport, shouting questions all the while," Nacchio's attorneys said in the motions filed this week.  "The reporter used a cellphone to announce ... progress and directional changes.  Television crews were thus able to corner and film Mr. Nacchio while the now-reinforced media contingent shouted frenzied questions."

I went back to look at what The Post reported.  These "frenzied questions" included:  What are you doing in town?  To which Nacchio answered "skiing."  And:  Why did you fly commercial?  To which he said, "I always flew commercial."

Nacchio now claims this surprise interview diminishes his chances of receiving a fair trial in Denver.  He's also unhappy about another purported "media trap," set the next day, inside the Denver office building of the FBI.

"It was while waiting there that (Nacchio and his attorneys) were again accosted and peppered with questions, this time by a female reporter who had been passed through Department of Justice security and, somehow, knew that Mr. Nacchio and his counsel would be at the FBI's offices at that specific time," the motions said.

Post reporter Beth Potter went to the FBI office -- a public building -- looking for Nacchio.  She was one of several reporters posted at likely places where he would be, and, well, there he was.

Yet Nacchio's attorneys are demanding government documents reflecting communications with Denver media Dec. 19 and 20.  The request will support a change-of-venue motion Nacchio has said he plans to file.  Nacchio wants to move the trial to another city, arguing that the local jury pool has been tainted by the media.

"No one could have predicted that the basis for such a motion would be exacerbated by the prejudicial pretrial publicity caused by the government's apparent alerting of the press about Mr. Nacchio's arrival in Denver," his attorneys argue.

Nacchio's lawyers also said they hired a renowned expert on trial venue changes, Edward Bronson, who has worked more than 100 cases.

Bronson recently recommended a venue change for the ongoing Enron trial in Houston.  He lost that one, which leads me to wonder:  If Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling can be tried in Houston, why can't Nacchio be tried in Denver?

So far, Nacchio's defense seems unnecessarily aggressive and, at the same time, self-defeating.  "It cannot be disputed that Mr. Nacchio has been among the most reviled figures in recent Denver history," his attorneys argue.

They accuse prosecutors of misconduct.  They claim U.S. marshals falsely imprisoned Nacchio.  They claim Nacchio's indictment may cause him to lose his national security clearance, which he needs to access documents for his defense.  Nacchio argues that when he sold his stock, he believed Qwest was about to get a boost from secret government contracts.

I don't know what difference it makes if government officials tipped us off to Nacchio's arrival, but I can say that they were not helpful to us on those two days.

Getting on the "federally secured" concourse at DIA didn't require their help anyway.  Post reporter Tom McGhee and photographer John Leyba simply bought refundable airline tickets.

But how did they know which gate?

Well, somebody saw him boarding a flight to Denver at the Newark airport and called the Denver media.  Turns out Nacchio is reviled in New Jersey, too.

Al Lewis' column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Respond to him at, 303-820-1967 or