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Senior Editor

Former Qwest executives indicted

Feb 25, 20034 mins
FraudInternet Service ProvidersNetworking

WASHINGTON – Four former executives at telecommunications company Qwest Communications International have been indicted on 12 charges relating to corporate accounting fraud, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday.

In the latest of a line of financial reporting problems at Qwest, the four former executives allegedly “devised a scheme to falsely recognize” more than $33 million of additional revenue for the second quarter of 2001, a weak quarter for Qwest, according to a Justice Department press release.

A federal grand jury in Denver handed out indictments, which accuse the four of seeking to fill a gap in revenue by immediately reporting millions of dollars from a delayed purchase by the Arizona School Facilities Board, a violation of U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules. The four then allegedly tried to hide their actions by falsifying documents and engaging in securities and mail fraud, according to the Justice Department.

The four defendants are Grant Graham of Evergreen, Colo., the former chief financial officer for Qwest’s Global Business Unit; Thomas Hall of Englewood, Colo., former senior vice president in the Government and Educational Solutions Group within Qwest’s Global Business Unit; John Walker of Littleton, Colo., a former vice president in the Government and Educational Solutions Group; and Bryan Treadway of Atlanta, Ga., a former assistant controller at Qwest.

Qwest, which has been investigated by the Justice Department, Congress and SEC for its alleged accounting irregularities between 1999 and 2001, issued a short statement.

“Qwest continues in its efforts to cooperate with the government in connection with the investigations,” the company said in a statement sent via e-mail. “As a company and as individual employees, we hold ourselves to the highest ethical standards as we conduct our business.”

“As we continue our efforts to battle corporate fraud, our message is clear,” Attorney General John Ashcroft said in a press release. “We will protect the integrity of our markets by punishing those who falsify financial information out of sheer greed.”

The indictments are good news “for investors who are looking for someone to pay for their losses,” Jeff Kagan, a telecommunications industry analyst, said in an e-mail. But the news isn’t necessarily bad for Qwest, “as this is old news under previous leadership.” Former CEO Joseph Nacchio resigned last June, but Kagan noted that current CEO Dick Notebaert seems to be trying to clean house at Qwest.

“We knew this day would come,” Kagan said. “Investors have been waiting for the other shoe to drop, and this was it. Investors who have become shell-shocked by fraud and accounting scandals at several big-name companies are looking for someone to pay.”

Arrest warrants have been issued for the four Qwest defendants, and they have been given 48 hours to surrender to the U.S. Marshals Service, according to the Justice Department.

In January 2001, Qwest agreed to design a statewide computer network for the Arizona School Facilities Board, according to the Justice Department. The purchase was a “bill and hold” arrangement, in which Qwest billed the buyer, then held the merchandise for later delivery. The indictment alleges that the defendants violated SEC requirements on “bill and hold” transactions by immediately recognizing the revenue.

The four are charged with a number of crimes:

– Conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

– Securities fraud – false/misleading statements, books, records; maximum of 10 years and $1 million.

– Securities fraud – manipulative and deceptive devices; 10 years and $250,000.

– Making false statements; five years and $250,000.

– Wire fraud affecting a financial institution; 10 years and $1 million.

In addition to the criminal charges filed by the Justice Department, the SEC on Tuesday filed civil fraud charges against eight current and former officers and employees of Qwest, alleging they inflated the company’s revenues by approximately $144 million in 2000 and 2001 in order to meet earnings projections and revenue expectations. The commission’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Denver, seeks antifraud injunctions, civil money penalties, and other penalties.