Mercury News

May. 29, 2006

Quattrone, friends aid Santa Clara law project

By Matt Marshall, Mercury News

Friends of Frank Quattrone, the powerful Silicon Valley banker still embroiled in a federal court fight over his actions during the Internet boom, have pitched in $500,000 to support a non-profit organization that helps defend indigent people who say they are wrongly convicted.

The donations were made to the Northern California Innocence Project, a group that is affiliated with Santa Clara University, after Quattrone sent an e-mail to his friends encouraging them to consider donating to the project if they were looking for charities to support.

The donations came from a group of about 50 people, first reported by San Francisco magazine last week, many of them influential Silicon Valley investors and other players who worked closely with Quattrone during the height of his power in the late 1990s and 2000.

The charity effort came after Quattrone's federal conviction in 2004 on charges of obstructing justice. The conviction was set aside in March, and he contends he was wrongly charged. Prosecutors have not decided yet whether to pursue another trial.

The Innocence Project isn't working on Quattrone's behalf, however.

Among the leaders of the fundraising effort was Donna Dubinsky, a well-known entrepreneur who co-founded Palm, a pioneer in developing handheld computers. She later co-founded Handspring -- a company that was later taken public with Quattrone's assistance, and then after the stock market crash, sold to Palm, again with Quattrone's help.

The Innocence Project resonated with Quattrone and he urged his friends to support it, Dubinsky said. She said she initiated the effort to raise a special fund to ``honor Frank,'' and approached several people without his knowledge. ``Along the way, I also became impressed with the Innocence Project and its passionate leader, Cookie Ridolfi, and felt pleased to be able to support them,'' she wrote in an e-mail.

Dubinsky was joined by a host of other well-known Silicon Valley players, including famed venture capitalist John Doerr, partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers; Roger McNamee, an investor with Elevation Partners; Eric Schmidt, chief executive of Google; and Andy Rachleff, partner at Benchmark Capital, according to San Francisco magazine. None of these people responded to requests for comment.

Quattrone invited donations in an e-mail sent to his friends in 2004, after learning about the NCIP in a newspaper article that said it had been responsible for freeing a man released from prison after 20 years when five witnesses recanted testimony. The article also mentioned the financial struggles of the NCIP, which had lost $400,000 in state funding because of California's budget deficit.

Quattrone called the group's leader, attorney Kathleen Ridolfi, organized a meeting and before long, he and his wife agreed to write a check for $100,000 -- enough to cover the group's budget for a few months, Ridolfi said. Quattrone later joined the NCIP advisory board.

Quattrone was charged with obstruction of justice based on an e-mail he forwarded from a colleague at his firm, Credit Suisse First Boston, instructing staff to clean up their files. At the time, an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission had been launched to inquire how CSFB had handled its allotment of shares in hot technology initial public offerings.

In March, five days after Quattrone's conviction was set aside, the SEC overturned an order from an industry regulator, NASD, that had banned Quattrone for life from working in the securities industry.

Quattrone's help was invaluable in saving the organization, Ridolfi said. The group's finances are still tight, she said, and it gets by with work from students and volunteer lawyers. She said the NCIP, founded in 2001, has freed four wrongfully convicted people from prison.

Innocence Projects
Truth in Justice