prosecutor in Nacchio case stepping down
By Andy Vuong, Staff Writer
Friday, August 11, 2006
Bill Leone, the lead prosecutor in the criminal
insider-trading case against former Qwest chief executive
Joe Nacchio, said Thursday he is withdrawing from the case
and returning to private practice.
Leone's departure deals a blow to the government's case
against Nacchio and further shuffles a prosecution team that
also lost a key attorney in June, experts said.
Leone joined the U.S. attorney's office five years ago and
has served as the acting U.S. attorney in Colorado since
December 2004. He has spearheaded the government's
investigation into the alleged fraud at Denver-based Qwest
With Colorado's incoming U.S. Attorney Troy Eid expected to
take office soon, Leone said Thursday he would not see the
"I would like to return to private practice as soon as
that's possible," Leone said in an interview. "I have
agreed with both the department and the new U.S. attorney to
remain involved in the case as long as is necessary to make
sure that the case is well-handled and smoothly transitioned
to someone else."
Eid was unavailable for comment Thursday, but he issued a
"I respect Bill's decision to return to private life -- and
his commitment to serve on the Qwest prosecution team as
long as necessary to ensure an effective transition," Eid
In December, Nacchio was charged in federal court in Denver
with 42 counts of illegal insider trading related to the
sale of $100.8 million in Qwest stock in early 2001. At the
time, he allegedly knew the company's finances were
Nacchio, who was forced out of Qwest in June 2002, has
pleaded not guilty.
Leone's co-lead prosecutor, Michael Koenig, left the case
two months ago to join a private law firm in Washington,
D.C. Koenig had worked on the case since March 2004.
"Any time you have two lead prosecutors leave the case, it's
devastating," said Anthony Accetta, a former federal
prosecutor. "The new people are behind the eight ball, but
that's not to say that they can't win the case."
Since Koenig's departure, two new attorneys have joined the
team -- Leo Wise and Colleen Conry. Wise is an
up-and-coming trial attorney who helped prosecute the case
against former Enron leaders Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling.
Both were convicted.
Conry, also a trial attorney based at the Justice Department
in Washington, D.C., helped prosecute the fraud case against
former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, who was acquitted.
Koenig, speaking from his office in Washington on Thursday,
said his departure had nothing to do with the Nacchio case
and gave high marks to Conry.
"She is an excellent attorney and a top-rate person," said
Koenig, now with Dewey Ballantine LLP. "There are not
enough good things I can say about Colleen Conry personally
The Justice Department hasn't finalized a trial team.
Experts said replacing Leone will be tough.
"He clearly has a lot of information about the investigation
and has a huge amount of knowledge," former federal
prosecutor Tony Leffert said. "It is uncommon to replace
the trial team in a high-profile case where there's been a
long extensive investigation."
The Nacchio case involves 13 million pages of documents, and
will likely involve claims by Nacchio that national security
issues played a role in his decisionmaking. Former
high-level Qwest executives Robin Szeliga and Afshin Mohebbi
are expected to be key witnesses.
"One of the big problems with (Leone leaving) is cooperating
witnesses have a rapport with the prosecutors they dealt
with," said former federal prosecutor William Mitchelson.
"Whoever replaces (Leone) will have to establish that
relationship. That's not always an automatic thing."
A trial date hasn't been set.
Nacchio's attorneys have requested that the trial not start
any earlier than June 2007 and have asked for a change of
venue to Nacchio's home state of New Jersey. A federal
judge is expected to rule by month's end on where the case
will be tried.
Nacchio is represented by Herbert Stern, a respected former
federal judge who served in New Jersey from 1974 to 1987.
Stern didn't return a call seeking comment.
Leone, who led a largely unsuccessful fraud prosecution of
four former Qwest executives in 2004, said he probably would
have stayed with Justice had he been appointed U.S.
"I've still got three kids to get through college." he
said. "I've devoted five years to the office. The case is
in good shape."
Staff writer Andy Vuong
can be reached at 303-820-1209 or