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Jury selection underway in trial of ex-Qwest chief

Nacchio charged with insider trades valued at $101m

DENVER -- Former Qwest Communications chief Joe Nacchio, looking fit and upbeat, watched prospective jurors with interest and actively consulted with attorneys as jury selection began yesterday in his $101 million insider trading trial.

District Judge Edward Nottingham kept the courtroom mood light and humorous as the prospects were asked about coverage of the case, whether they knew any of the potential witnesses, had contact with law enforcement agencies, and other questions.

A group of 18 people were assigned to the jury box with several dozen more prospects seated in the spectator section. Representatives of the news media and a handful of spectators filled the remaining seats.

By midday, at least seven prospective jurors had been excused after being questioned about their exposure to media coverage of the case, personal hardships, or other issues. One juror was released after she told the judge she had attended accounting seminars where the Qwest accounting scandal had been discussed. Another was released because of his responsibilities on a family farm.

Nacchio, 57, declined to comment as he entered the courthouse with his legal team. He is accused of improperly selling about $101 million worth of stock while privy to nonpublic information that Qwest Communications International Inc. was at financial risk. The Denver-based telephone company soon after became mired in an accounting scandal and eventually was forced to restate $2.2 billion in revenue.

Nacchio is charged with 42 counts of insider trading for stock sales in the first five months of 2001. Each count carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

Nacchio's defense strategy includes the argument that he was optimistic about the company's future because he expected Qwest to win contracts worth millions of dollars from clandestine government agencies.

Nottingham handled the bulk of the initial questioning, asking prospective jurors about the potential hardships of serving for up to two months on the panel, physical disabilities, or their knowledge of the case against Nacchio.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys also read to prospects a list of potential witnesses to see if they were acquainted with them. On that list are Qwest Communications founder Phil Anschutz, former Qwest finance chiefs Robin Szeliga and Robert Woodruff, and former Qwest president Asfhin Mohebbi.

Nacchio also is a defendant in an SEC civil fraud case stemming from the scandal.

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