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Tyco International Ltd.’s former top lawyer, Mark A. Belnick, was acquitted today of grand larceny, securities fraud and falsifying business records. The Manhattan state Supreme Court jury returned the verdict in its fifth day of deliberations, while prosecution and defense lawyers had been discussing a possible plea deal. Belnick, accused of stealing millions by accepting an illegal bonus and abusing company loan programs, had faced up to 25 years in prison if convicted on the top count, grand larceny. He sat impassively as the jury foreman repeatedly pronounced “Not guilty.” On the last count, he bowed his head into his interlaced fingers and began shaking with sobs. His wife, Randy, who had attended the trial daily, let out a loud gasp and then a sob. Then she wept as the final “Not guilty” verdicts were read. The grand larceny charge stemmed from Belnick’s receipt of cash and stock worth up to $17 million as a bonus awarded by former chief executive L. Dennis Kozlowski — but not approved by Tyco’s board of directors — for guiding the company unscathed through a Securities and Exchange Commission probe of its accounting practices. Prosecutors said the bonus was not for legal work but for hiding Kozlowski’s alleged massive thefts during the SEC inquiry. As Tyco’s top legal officer, they said, Belnick knew that only the board’s compensation committee could approve the bonus. Belnick testified that Kozlowski told him during the meeting at which he was hired — their second — that he had the authority to set his compensation. Based on that statement, Belnick said, he believed Kozlowski was authorized to grant him the bonus. Justice Michael Obus had instructed the jurors that, when deliberating the grand larceny charge, they could consider whether Belnick had a good faith, reasonable belief that he had a right to accept the bonus offered by Kozlowski. Kozlowski, 57, and former chief financial officer Mark Swartz, 43, were tried earlier this year on charges of stealing $600 million from the company. Their first trial ended in a mistrial in May after a juror received a menacing letter. They are expected to be retried in January. Tyco, based in Bermuda but with U.S. headquarters in West Windsor, N.J., makes products ranging from telecommunications equipment to home alarm systems. In 2003, the corporation had more than 250,000 employees and sales of about $36 billion. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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