slams door on a dazed, shaken Nacchio
By Al Lewis, Columnist
Sunday, July 29, 2007
What did Joe Nacchio want to say?
As the curtain closed on his sentencing hearing on Friday, the
former Qwest CEO stood before U.S. District Court Judge Edward
Nottingham, pleading to speak.
Too late, the judge ordered. He'd had his chance earlier in the
hearing and didn't take it. Court adjourned.
People in the gallery were already standing. Lawyers on both
sides of the courtroom were packing their briefcases. The
sentence was harsh and final.
Yet there stood Nacchio, frustrated and perplexed, his hands
outstretched, begging for just one moment to be heard.
He was going away for six years without ever addressing the
court during his trial. Nacchio's state of mind, a key element
of any insider-trading case, was not something we learned from
"I promise it will be respectful," Nacchio cried. He only
wanted to say one thing. But the judge shooed him away like a
teacher dismissing a hyperactive schoolboy.
Case closed. It was all over. See ya, Joe.
Earlier in the day, Nacchio indicated that he wanted to address
the court. But when it came his turn, he stood at the lectern
with his attorneys and declined. Nacchio was too upset — or
perhaps angry — at that moment, wiping his bespectacled eyes
with a white handkerchief.
I think his attorneys figured it was just as well. They have
already laid the groundwork for an exhaustive appeal.
In court filings, they claim Nacchio didn't get a fair trial,
that there wasn't sufficient evidence for a conviction, that
jury instructions were improper, that expert testimony and key
evidence was unfairly excluded, and that the government hobbled
Nacchio's defense by deeming much of it classified. Nacchio had
claimed he expected to meet his projections through
telecommunications contracts with secret government agencies.
But his attorneys did not get to present this defense.
The hearing was barreling toward its inevitable conclusion,
anyway. A $19 million fine. An order seeking forfeiture of
more than $52 million related to insider stock trades. Six
years in prison. No appeal bond. A penitentiary in
Pennsylvania. Two years' supervised release.
The judge's orders must have swirled around Nacchio's head like
stars. He was taking punches like a boxer against the ropes.
And when the beating was over, he was left with the possibility
that he may have only days of freedom left if he does not get
fast relief from the appeals court.
Whatever he might have said would not have changed the judge's
The judge conceded he was moved by Nacchio's attorneys' pleas
for leniency, but not enough to depart from sentencing
Nacchio's mentally ill son, David, depends on his father, the
court record shows. But almost every convict has needy family
members, the judge noted.
Nacchio should have thought of that before coming to Colorado
and committing fraud.
If his family was so needy, he should have never left New Jersey
and taken the Qwest job.
"The only reason I can see why he came here was greed," said
Nottingham. "The love of money." At least three times, the
judge called Nacchio's transgressions "crimes of overarching
Perhaps Nacchio wanted to tell the judge that it was not greed.
That it was ambition — the desire to build a great company. The
entrepreneurial thrill of creating a new-generation
telecommunications network. The adrenaline rush of chasing
deals on Wall Street.
Not that it mattered. The judge had suffered through every
moment and motion in the case and he had clearly decided to make
an example of Nacchio.
If white-collar criminals ever wonder what might happen if they
get caught, they need only look to Nacchio. If working stiffs
start to fear they are victims of a double standard, they need
only look to the Nacchio sentence for comfort.
"If it is perceived there is one law for the rich and one law
for everybody else, the law will ultimately fall in disrespect,"
Maybe Nacchio wanted to say that he meant no disrespect. That
it was the telecom market and the economy that let everybody
down. That he didn't sell all of his stock. Just some of it.
Or maybe Nacchio wanted to say he was sorry. Not guilty. But
sorry. That it hurt so many people. But it was too late.
I stood in the foyer as Nacchio left the courtroom, deeply
wounded. I shook his hand as he passed with his family, friends
and entourage of lawyers. I told him I felt sorry about the way
it all went down.
"What were you going to say?" I asked. "What did you want to
tell the judge?"
He was still shaken. But like a defeated action hero summoning
the courage for a comeback, he gave me three words: "It's not
Al Lewis' column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays.
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