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New prosecutor in Nacchio case
Stricklin, government attorney in Enron trial, takes on tough assignment
By Jeff Smith
Rocky Mountain News
Thursday, August 24, 2006

An Enron prosecutor has been named to head the government's insider-trading case against former Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio.  Cliff Stricklin, one of four prosecutors in the trial of Enron executives Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling, will replace Bill Leone as first assistant U.S. attorney in Colorado.  He will make $142,000 a year in the post.

Stricklin, 42, said he took some time off with his family after the Lay and Skilling guilty verdicts in late May and is ready to go at it again.

"I feel energized about this opportunity," he said.

Stricklin is bucking the trend of other white-collar prosecutors who recently have landed high-paying jobs in the private sector.  But he said he felt Denver and the Nacchio case were the right place and right move for him and his family.

"I think this is really an important case.  Insider trading affects the integrity of our stock market and, more importantly, really attacks our sense of fair play," Stricklin said.  "I certainly thought about private practice.  But . . . really making a difference meant more to me right now."

Nacchio has pleaded not guilty to the 42 counts of insider trading.  The next pretrial hearing is Friday, and prosecutors are seeking to close to the public part of the hearing that relates to potential classified information.

The new U.S. attorney for Colorado, Troy Eid, said Stricklin was selected after a nationwide search for his No. 2 prosecutor.

"He's the man for the hour," Eid said.

Eid said he was keen on Stricklin not only because of his experience on the Enron task force but because he also has substantial federal appellate experience and once served as a judge.

Eid praised Leone's work as the lead prosecutor on the Qwest case since 2002, saying the Nacchio case is in "great shape."

Leone plans to re-enter private practice after helping with the transition on the case.  Leone said in a statement he was pleased that a strong team had been assembled to "pursue this prosecution to a successful conclusion."

As lead prosecutor, Stricklin will make the key decisions on the Nacchio case, including which prosecutor handles which witness.  But he indicated the prosecution team would work closely together.

Other members are U.S. Assistant Attorney James Hearty and Justice Department attorneys Colleen Conry and Leo Wise.  Conry and Wise, who also served on the Enron task force, also are new to the team, meaning that most have to get up to speed on the case.

Former Denver prosecutor Craig Silverman said Stricklin must be a hard worker to want this job after his intense stint on the Enron case.

"I don't know what the government is paying him, but it's not enough," Silverman said.  "There's an unbelievable amount of reading he's going to have to do.  To be a good trial lawyer, among other things, you have to be the master of the facts, and there's a whole lot of facts here, one box after another full of information.

"The last thing you want to do when you're in court is look like you don't know something important about the case."

One of Stricklin's biggest courtroom moments came in March, when he questioned a former Enron broadband executive about a May 2001 meeting attended by Lay and Skilling.  The broadband executive recalled Skilling saying, "They're on to us," in reaction to an analyst critical of the company's sales to partnerships run by then Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow.

Cliff Stricklin at a glance

  Appointed as first assistant U.S. attorney in Colorado.

  Joined Enron task force in January 2005 as a special prosecutor and was one of four who handled the trial of former executives Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling.

  Knows the telecommunications business -- lead prosecutor on last year's fraud trial of five former Enron Broadband executives.

  State judge in Dallas, 2000-04.

  Former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officer in Washington, D.C.

  Taught at Southern Methodist University's School of Law in Dallas.

  Graduate of Baylor University; law degree from Washington & Lee University.,2777,DRMN_23910_4940379,00.html