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Scott Wiegand, the ex-GC of PurchasePro.com Inc., can finally put the accusations of fraud, loss of his job, indictment on criminal charges and ensuing trial behind him. In December, he was acquitted on all counts, making him only the second general counsel to beat a high-profile fraud prosecution in recent years. Now Wiegand wants to get on with his life by finding a new in-house post. He also has a piece of advice for other lawyers: Carefully evaluate the risks of any in-house opening before taking it. “I was a senior associate at my law firm,” Wiegand recalls, “and I wanted to move in-house. Here was a fast-paced dot-com with a challenging environment. I jumped.” Now he wishes he had looked harder before he leaped. Wiegand said that anyone considering a GC opportunity should “analyze very carefully the quality of the board [of directors] and the risk profile of the company.” Wiegand’s ordeal began in January 2000, when he left Cincinnati-based Dinsmore & Shohl to become associate general counsel at Las Vegas-based PurchasePro. The now-defunct company provided software services that facilitated online commercial transactions, such as credit card purchases. In January 2001, Wiegand was promoted to GC, but he soon had his hands full. In mid-2001, PurchasePro admitted that it had overstated its revenues, which eventually led to bankruptcy and a government investigation. Federal prosecutors in Alexandria, Va., alleged that PurchasePro had fraudulently swapped revenue with Dulles, Va.-based America Online Inc. (now a unit of Time Warner Inc.). According to the government, each company paid money to the other under false pretenses in order to artificially inflate its own revenue stream. The government accused Wiegand of taking part in the fraud by helping to file false financial reports and making false statements to investigators. Wiegand’s lawyer, Robert Ullmann of Boston-based Nutter McClennen & Fish, said that his client wasn’t involved in the fraud and that Wiegand cooperated fully with the federal investigation. But Wiegand, along with five other executives of the two companies, was indicted in January 2005 on seven counts of conspiracy, securities fraud and making false statements. In December, Wiegand was acquitted by U.S. District Judge Walter Kelley Jr., after a seven-day bench trial in which the defense didn’t bother to call a witness after the prosecution rested its case. According to Ullmann, Wiegand prevailed because some of the witness statements supporting the government’s indictment turned out to be inaccurate. “The evidence just wasn’t there,” Ullmann says. “The truth came out at trial.” Four other former PurchasePro execs are scheduled to go to trial on criminal charges this coming August; they settled a civil action with the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2004. (The agency did not bring a civil action against Wiegand.) Six lower-level company officials have pleaded guilty to fraud charges. The only other ex-GC to win acquittal in a high-profile fraud case in the past five years is Mark Belnick, the former legal chief of Tyco International Ltd. Belnick, who was cleared of all charges by a jury in 2004, currently runs his own law practice in New York. In Wiegand’s view, “The government is looking at in-house counsel now in more of a chief compliance officer role than most in-house counsel would expect. That makes you a policeman rather than an advocate for your client.” But his experience at PurchasePro hasn’t soured him on a corporate counsel position, and after a year and a half of unemployment, he’s now looking for a new opening. Despite all that he’s been through, Wiegand insists, “The in-house role is not something that scares me.”

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