Tuesday, April 01, 2008
DENVER — For 30 years, Lew Ellingson loved being a telephone man.
His job splicing phone cables was one that he says gave him “a true sense of accomplishment,” first for Northwestern Bell, then US West and finally Qwest Communications International.
But by the time Mr. Ellingson retired from Qwest last year at 52, he had grown angry. An insider trading scandal had damaged the company’s reputation, and the life savings of former colleagues had evaporated in the face of Qwest’s stock troubles.
“It was a good place,” he said wistfully. “And then something like this happened.”
Now, Mr. Ellingson is the public face of a proposed ballot measure in Colorado that seeks to create what supporters hope will be the nation’s toughest corporate fraud law.
Buttressed by local advocacy groups and criticized by a Colorado business organization, the measure would make business executives criminally responsible if their companies run afoul of the law. It would also permit any Colorado resident to sue the executives under such circumstances. Proceeds from successful suits would go to the state.
If passed by voters in November, the proposal would leave top business officers having unprecedented individual accountability, said Mr. Ellingson, a member of Protect Colorado’s Future, a coalition of advocacy groups that supports the initiative.
“If nothing else, these folks in charge of the corporations and companies will think twice about cutting corners to make themselves look more profitable than they really are,” he said.
The plight of Mr. Ellingson’s former employer, Qwest, based in Denver, was a motivation for the proposal, said Jess Knox, executive director of Protect Colorado’s Future.
Last April, a jury in Denver convicted Qwest’s former chief executive, Joseph P. Nacchio, of 19 of 42 counts of insider trading. Mr. Nacchio was sentenced to six years in prison and ordered to pay a fine of $19 million and forfeit $52 million in money he earned from stock sales in 2001.
In March, however, a federal appeals court panel reversed the conviction on the grounds that a judge had improperly excluded expert defense testimony.
The panel ordered that Mr. Nacchio receive a new trial in front of a different judge....(Click here for remainder of article.)