publicity could taint trial
Ex-Qwest exec's lawyer wants to ask jury pool about him
By Jeff Smith
Rocky Mountain News
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Former Qwest executive Marc Weisberg could face a difficult
time getting a fair trial next month because of publicity
surrounding a potential indictment of former Chief Executive
Joe Nacchio, Weisberg's defense attorney said Friday. "It
will be an elephant in this courtroom," defense attorney
Gary Lozow said during a pretrial conference for Weisberg,
who faces money laundering and fraud charges.
Weisberg's trial is set to start Jan. 3 in U.S. District
Court in Denver. He has pleaded not guilty.
Weisberg's defense team wants to question potential jurors
about their knowledge and opinion of Nacchio and his case,
and whether they think the two cases are related. Nacchio
is being investigated by a federal grand jury and could be
indicted on insider trading charges as early as next week.
But government prosecutors oppose questions about Nacchio's
case and others seeking potential jurors' opinions, saying
they are either an attempt to distract jurors from the
relevant facts or to pre-try Weisberg's case. The defense,
for example, wants to know if potential jurors believe
violating a company's code of conduct constitutes a criminal
Federal Judge Robert Blackburn will develop a final list of
juror questions later this month after reviewing the
proposed questions by the defense and prosecutors.
Besides taking into account the publicity that would
surround a possible Nacchio indictment, Lozow said the court
needs to be mindful Nacchio's name will come up in the trial
and he "may have a role." Lozow indicated that could mean
trying to submit into evidence sworn statements Nacchio has
Weisberg, former executive vice president of corporate
development, faces charges he secretly steered low-priced
stock from suppliers to family and friends, including his
wife's personal trainer. He is accused of using his
position and influence to make such stock allocations a
condition for the vendors to do business with Qwest. The
indictment doesn't allege the suppliers did anything wrong.
The government is charging Weisberg with eight counts of
wire fraud and three counts of money laundering. It also is
seeking $2.9 million in alleged profits.
The maximum penalty for wire fraud is five years in prison,
while the maximum for money laundering is 20 years,
depending on when the crime occurred.
Blackburn has set aside six weeks for the trial. The
government has more than 50 potential witnesses, and the
defense said it has about 35 potential witnesses.