Two former Texaco execs acquitted of obstruction

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) — Two former Texaco executives were acquitted Tuesday of trying to hide or destroy documents that were being sought by black employees suing the company for race discrimination.
Richard Lundwall and Robert Ulrich were found innocent of obstruction of justice, which carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
Lundwall and Ulrich clapped their lawyers on the back, and their relatives hugged as the verdict was read. The jury had deliberated 21 hours over four days.
Lundwall secretly recorded tapes at executive meetings in 1994 and 1995, then created a scandal when he released them publicly in November 1996. They showed company officers making disparaging remarks about blacks, and the first transcript erroneously included a racial epithet.
Civil rights leaders called for a boycott, some customers cut up their Texaco credit cards, some investors sold off their stock and Jay Leno made jokes at Texaco’s expense.
The company quickly settled the race case for a record $176 million, including the cost of programs to make Texaco more receptive to minorities. Texaco fired one executive — assistant treasurer David Keough — suspended another and cut off Lundwall’s and Ulrich’s retirement benefits.
Federal prosecutors decided, however, that the behavior captured on Lundwall’s tapes was a criminal act. Lundwall and Ulrich were indicted and Keough was named an unindicted co-conspirator.
At the trial, which began April 22, prosecutors played extensive excerpts of the tapes, including several passages that seemed to bear out allegations that Lundwall and Ulrich discussed how to hide documents that might help the black plaintiffs.
Defense attorneys tried to show that Lundwall and Ulrich, who are not lawyers, had no intention of obstructing justice, but were not given the legal help they needed to understand what was required of them.
Lundwall’s lawyer, Ethan Levin-Epstein, also suggested that the fact that Lundwall went public with the tapes provided “built-in reasonable doubt.”
Ulrich testified that he had delegated responsibility for collecting documents for the lawsuit. His own taped comments about destroying documents, he said, were actually his plans for a new company policy.