A former top executive of Qwest Communications International Inc on Wednesday pleaded guilty to wire fraud, avoiding a five-week trial that had been set to start on Tuesday.
Former Qwest executive vice president Marc Weisberg, 48, is among seven former Qwest executives charged criminally since 2003 as part of a three-year probe by federal prosecutors in Denver, which led to the indictment last week of Qwest chief executive Joseph Nacchio for insider trading.
Weisberg entered his plea in U.S. District Court as part of a plea bargain in which he agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and may serve as a witness in the case involving his former boss, Nacchio, who pleaded innocent. Nacchio is the only former Qwest executive remaining to go on trial.
U.S. Attorney Bill Leone declined to comment on whether Weisberg was helping prosecutors in their case against Nacchio.
But former state prosecutor and legal analyst Craig Silverman said he believed Weisberg may be helpful.
"(He) may have been in a position to know a lot of important things about how the higher-ups operated at Qwest,'' he said.
Weisberg, who is to be sentenced March 3, faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, but prosecutors agreed to recommend he serve no prison time in exchange for his cooperation.
As part of the plea deal, prosecutors recommended that Weisberg serve 60 days in home detention and pay a $250,000 fine.
U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn told Weisberg in Wednesday's court proceeding that he will be able to withdraw his plea if the judge does not accept the penalty recommendation.
Blackburn asked Weisberg if he did the things the plea agreement described as his crime.
"I did, your honor,'' Weisberg replied.
A February 17 indictment of Weisberg accused him of abusing his position by obtaining investment opportunities in technology companies for himself at the peak of the boom in those stocks starting in 1999.
Weisberg oversaw corporate investments for Qwest.
He allegedly took shares in Qwest vendor companies offered before their initial public offerings at the expense of Qwest and its shareholders and without the companies' knowledge.
He made personal profits of nearly $3 million, prosecutors said.
He pleaded guilty to one of 12 counts in the indictment and prosecutors agreed to drop the remaining 11 counts.
Weisberg had no comment as he hurried past reporters in a courthouse corridor. One of his attorneys said a statement might be issued Wednesday afternoon.
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