Video: Star banker off the hook

updated 9/26/2006 3:58:48 PM ET 2006-09-26T19:58:48

Like a championship boxer or a celebrity at a movie premiere, Frank Quattrone was swarmed by photographers who wanted to capture the look of a man who had just won his life back.

“Give us that winning smile,” one of them shouted as the millionaire in a gray suit happily obliged.

“You betcha!” Quattrone said.

Moments earlier, U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels approved a deal with the government that calls for the dismissal of obstruction-of-justice charges against Quattrone if he stays out of trouble for one year. He also can work in finance again.

“I plan to resume my business career,” the 50-year-old Quattrone said.

He did not elaborate, but at least one expert said his re-entry into a profession he once dominated as the head of the technology investment banking group of Credit Suisse First Boston Corp. might not be smooth.

“He’s a convicted person whose case was dismissed on a technicality, and the things he was accused of are serious crimes,” said Samuel Hayes, a professor of investment banking at the Harvard Business School. “You can’t put a scrambled egg back into the shell.”

Quattrone could savor what seemed to be the end of his three-year legal odyssey after plenty of bad days in court, like the day he was charged, the day he was convicted and the day he was sentenced to 18 months in prison. His first trial ended in a hung jury.

His comeback seemed likely when the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in March resurrected his case and his business future when it tossed out his conviction, finding the jury was not properly instructed on the law. And, most significantly, it required a new judge preside over the case. Earlier, it let him stay free on bail pending its ruling.

Quattrone’s deferred prosecution deal was unusual in that it did not require him to admit wrongdoing. Prosecutors, in turn, did not say they were wrong to accuse him of crimes for sending CSFB subordinates a 22-word e-mail on Dec. 5, 2000 encouraging them to follow a colleague’s recommendation to “clean up” their files.

The government had said Quattrone knew enough of probes by a grand jury — the National Association of Securities Dealers and the Securities and Exchange Commission — that he should have protected files. Quattrone has said he acted properly, following company policy.

Quattrone supervised 400 technology investment bankers from the Palo Alto, Calif., offices where he made $120 million in his best year, earning a reputation as one of Wall Street’s financial heavyweights.

At the height of the late 1990s technology boom, he helped to bring companies like Amazon.com and Netscape Communications Corp. public. He was the highest-profile Wall Street figure since junk-bond pioneer Michael Milken to face a criminal conviction.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney Michael J. Garcia called Tuesday’s deferred prosecution “an appropriate resolution of the case in light of all of the facts and circumstances and the posture of the case at this time.”

His old company has since changed its name to Credit Suisse (USA) Inc.

The hearing itself lasted a few minutes and Quattrone seemed eager to celebrate the moment.

“How did I do?” Quattrone asked his lawyer, Theodore B. Wells Jr., on an elevator after he left court.

“You did great,” Wells told him.

“You were worried weren’t you?” a smiling Quattrone added.

Timothy J. Coleman, a white-collar crime expert at Dewey Ballantine and a former federal prosecutor, said Quattrone had reason to be so happy, having received the same punishment as someone who smuggled a few Cuban cigars into the United States.

“If he holds up his end of the deal, it will be as if the case never happened,” he said.

Meanwhile, prosecutors have achieved their purpose of alerting corporate America through a series of trials of high-profile business people, including Martha Stewart, he said.

“Corporate America gets it,” he said, citing changes businesses have made. “The fact the government is not going to get a felony conviction against Quattrone is not going to cause corporate America to regress and say, ‘Let’s get back to what we were doing before.”

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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