By CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4) – Former DaVita CEO Kent Thiry says he is a changed man after a jury found him and the Denver kidney care company innocent of federal anti-trust charges. The high stakes trial drew national attention, shook the corporate world and, Thiry says, nearly destroyed his life.

“The toughest part is what it does to your family. They’re publicly embarrassed and humiliated.”

CBS4’s Shaun Boyd interviews DaVita CEO Kent Thiry. (credit: CBS)

He says they’ve come through the ordeal stronger than ever. Thiry’s nightmare started three years ago when the Department of Justice launched an investigation into a deal he struck with the heads of two other companies.

Both of them had previously worked for Thiry at DaVita. They agreed not to recruit top level executives from each other without giving notice first.

“The basic idea was, if it gets serious, give your boss a heads-up so they can compete to keep.”

Using a new interpretation of a century-old anti-trust law, federal prosecutors said Thiry conspired with rivals to deprive executives of free market mobility, even though the companies weren’t rivals and more than a dozen executives moved between them during the years in question.

“All we wanted was for recruiting to be transparent,” saidThiry, who faced ten years in prison if convicted.

He says he was stunned when the indictment came down. It was the first time the Department of Justice had ever brought such charges. Thiry says federal prosecutors retroactively criminalized the kind of non-solicit agreement that is commonplace in the corporate world.

He says it is the third straight anti-trust case the government has lost in the last month.

“I think there will be much written about these cases, and I advise everyone to read them carefully because, while we and these other two groups were found innocent, we still don’t know how the pattern of prosecution will continue to unfold.”

He says the one silver lining, in a very dark cloud, was all the support he received.

(credit: CBS)

“When we were first indicted I felt people would head for exits and the response of the health care community, of the Colorado community was exactly the opposite. My family and I have been deeply touched by how people stood by us, including even elected officials for whom the radioactivity could be regarded as not in their self-interest.”

He says he’s also grateful to jurors who he says spent two intense weeks sifting through thousands of pieces of evidence and conflicting testimony before delivering a not guilty verdict.

“As a citizen, I want to pay that forward. I want to be as good a citizen as they were.”

Thiry has long been actively engaged in civic affairs, including education and environmental issues and has founded nonprofits. He’s also led and funded five ballot initiatives, including a measure that created independent redistricting commissions that drew new congressional and legislative boundaries last year.

Thiry says he especially enjoys coaching young executives on how to create healthy cultures. Professional development, he says, is something DaVita is, ironically, known for.

Company executives have left for leadership positions in 461 other companies, he says, during the 14 years relevant to the case.

He admits he made mistakes, including sending some angry emails. He says prosecutors found six emails to highlight out of hundreds of thousands they examined.

“I think I’m already older and wiser than I was because these people went back 14 years, but I’m sure I’ve got more room to grow.”

He hopes the Department of Justice will also learn from the three anti-trust cases it has lost.

“These kind of lawsuits destroy people’s lives, reputations, damage companies, are incredibly expensive.”

After spending three years in limbo, Thiry says, he’s ready for a new chapter in life.

“The only thing that I can compare it to is when I found out that a serious cancer I had was gone. It’s that kind of moment where you live through a number of months where you don’t know which fork your life is going to take. I feel reborn and I’m looking at what to do in this next chapter with a fresh lens although it was a high price to pay for the fresh lens.”

Shaun Boyd