Broadcom Corp’s former chief executive and financial officers won dismissal of criminal charges over stock-option backdating after a federal judge found that prosecutors had intimidated three critical witnesses. U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney, at a hearing in federal court in Santa Ana, ended the trial of former finance chief William Ruehle and threw out the charges against former CEO and co-founder Henry Nicholas, who was scheduled to go trial in February. Judge Carney also dismissed the SEC complaint filed against four Broadcom executives. This came after Judge Carney vacated a guilty plea by former by Broadcom co-founder Henry Samueli in the same case after hearing him testify for two days last week as a defense witness for Ruehle under a grant of immunity. Judge Carney found that prosecutors tried to prevent three key defense witnesses from testifying, improperly contacted attorneys for defense witnesses and leaked information about grand jury proceedings to the media.
Ruehle and Nicholas were indicted last year for retroactively deciding the dates when Broadcom employees received their stock-option grants to increase the employees’ profits. Irvine, California-based Broadcom had to reduce reported earnings by $2.22 billion from 1998 to 2005 for underreported compensation expenses, the largest backdating- related restatement for any company.
“You are charged with serious crimes and, if convicted on them, you will spend the rest of your life prison,” Judge Carney said. “You only have three witnesses to prove your innocence and the government has intimidated and improperly influenced each one of them. Is that fair? Is that justice? I say absolutely not.”
The case is U.S. v. Nicholas, 08-139, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Santa Ana).