Charter Places COO on Paid Leave
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ST. LOUIS (AP) _ Charter Communications Inc. has placed its chief operating officer on indefinite paid leave amid a federal probe into its accounting practices.
It’s unclear what role David G. Barford, a former Comcast Cablevision executive who joined Charter in 1995 and was named executive vice president and COO two years ago, has assumed in the grand jury’s investigation. The company issued two statements on the matter Tuesday, but did not return calls seeking comment.
Charter president and chief executive Carl Vogel has assumed Barford’s responsibilities on an interim basis.
``The company determined that the most appropriate course of action at this time is to place Mr. Barford on paid leave pending the result of the investigation, after which this status would be reviewed,″ Charter said in a statement late Tuesday, after its shares plunged more than 31 percent, closing at $1.20 Tuesday on the Nasdaq Stock Market.
In August, Charter spokesman David Andersen said the grand jury had requested documents related to how the company accounts for costs on current and former cable subscribers. St. Louis-based Charter _ controlled by Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen _ is the nation’s fourth-largest cable company, with 6.8 million customers in 40 states.
The company said it continues to cooperate with the subpoena and believes that its financial statements comply with generally accepted accounting principles.
Since July, some analysts have raised concerns about Charter’s accounting practices, such as counting as cable subscribers people who buy the company’s cable-modem Internet access but not monthly cable programming.
Shareholders also have expressed concern through a series of class-action lawsuits accusing Charter of issuing false and misleading statements over the past three years.
Aryeh B. Bourkoff, an analyst who follows cable and satellite television for UBS Warburg LLC in New York, said he spoke Tuesday with Charter’s chief financial officer, Kent Kalkwarf.
``I think the market has reacted appropriately given the surprising news today and the lack of clarification on a number of issues,″ Bourkoff said.
Cable TV providers have been fiercely battling satellite TV companies. Industrywide, cable subscriptions are down about 0.05 percent for the year, but Charter has suffered a 3 percent subscriber decline, he said.
Earlier this month, Charter reduced its third-quarter cash flow estimate, citing subscriber losses.
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