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The Reluctant Hundred-Millionaire

The Denver dailies are blitzing the insider-trading trial of Joe Nacchio like it was the second coming of the Oklahoma City bombing case. But let's keep an open mind here; after all, Nacchio's lawyers have argued that the former Qwest chief exec is guilty of nothing more than "puffery," despite the devastation suffered by the company and the telecom business in general in his wake, as noted in our post-mortem report, "Waltz of the Cannibals."

In his opening statement, Nacchio attorney Herbert Stern made the jaw-dropping claim that his client was forced to cash in his stock options by Qwest's board of directors; in other words, he really wasn't all that keen on making a quick $100 million. And, of course, Stern hinted at the special information Nacchio had about some hush-hush, pending government deals that was presumably behind his continued optimism about Qwest stock right up to the point it went in the toilet.

Before you dismiss such claims as puffery, you'd do well to consider some of the bombshell evidence the defense is preparing to unveil in the coming weeks.

A well-placed source has provided us with the following scrap of a transcript apparently cobbled from a secret taping device hidden in Qwest's executive offices during the Nacchio era.

Say it ain't so, Joe:

(Two adult male voices, too distant to be heard over sounds of phones beeping, CNBC broadcast. They abruptly move closer to desk recorder.)

FIRST VOICE: Joe, baby, Joe, I love you, but you're a lunkhead. I'm begging you. The board is begging you. Cash the options. Now. Before it's too late.

SECOND VOICE: I'm just not that kind of guy, Phil. This company's headed to the moon. I'm not going to cut and run now. Besides, it would bruise the stock, and I'd never do that to our investors.

FV: Joe, you've got to sell. We're talking eighty, a hundred million dollars here. What the hell's wrong with you?

SV: I'm telling you, Phil, there are things I know...things that are going to happen...secret government contracts...I'm telling you...I wish I could tell you, but I just can't. We're going to the moon. To the moon! Oh, that reminds me. I can't make golf on Thursday. I'm going to be in Jersey.

(beep, speakerphone switched on, nasal female voice)

FEMALE: Mr. Nacchio, a Mr. Jerkowitz from the National Security Agency is on line three. He says he wants Qwest customer phone records for the last four years.

SV: Betray our customers? Never! Tell him to get lost. Look, Phil, I've got a meeting in five minutes with the boys from (unintelligible). They actually want to scale back our revenue targets, those (unintelligible)...So unless there's something else...

(unintelligible murmuring, tape ends) -- Alan Prendergast

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun