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Ex-Charter COO Barford Pleads Guilty

Former Charter Communications Inc. chief operating officer David Barford cut a deal with federal prosecutors Thursday, pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and agreeing to testify at the upcoming trial of two former colleagues.

Barford now faces a maximum of five years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for March 11.

Barford, 46, was indicted along with former Charter chief financial officer Kent Kalkwarf in July 2003 on 14 counts of wire fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, stemming from an alleged scheme to defraud Charter investors by inflating subscriber numbers in 2001.

Two other executives -- former Eastern region senior vice president David McCall and former Western region senior VP James “Trey” Smith -- were indicted on one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and eight counts of wire fraud and conspiracy, respectively, at the same time.

McCall pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in July 2003, and he is awaiting sentencing.

“Mr. Barford's guilty plea and his agreement to testify at the upcoming trial is a very significant development for the case,” U.S. Attorney James Martin said in a prepared statement.

Kalkwarf and Smith are scheduled to begin their trials in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri Feb. 7.

Charter spokesman David Andersen declined comment on Barford’s guilty plea, adding that the former COO was terminated in 2002, following an internal investigation. Andersen said Barford’s plea will have no impact on the MSO’s operations.

Charter reached a settlement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in July under which the company promised not to violate securities laws and admitted no wrongdoing. In the settlement, the U.S. Attorney praised Charter for its full cooperation during the 20-month investigation and said that neither the company nor any of its current officers or directors is a target of the inquiry.