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Nacchio 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 action.

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 made.

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.,2777,DRMN_23916_4321757,00.html