Former Charter COO David Barford pleaded guilty yesterday to a federal charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in a 2001 scheme to inflate Charter’s subscriber numbers. He cut a deal to testify against former CFO Kent Kalkwarf and former svp James Smith, who are awaiting trial on Feb 7. In return, 13 other counts against Barford were dropped. He faces a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison and/or a fine of $250K at his March 11 sentencing. "Mr. Barford’s guilty plea and his agreement to testify at the upcoming trial is a very significant development for the case," said US Atty James Martin. Former Charter svp David McCall pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in July ’03, and is awaiting sentencing. "Charter declines specific comment on Mr. Barford’s guilty plea since his employment was terminated in Dec ’02 following an internal investigation. As such, his plea will have no impact on our operations," said Charter svp, comm David Andersen, adding that the MSO has fully cooperated with the govt in its investigation and has been commended for its "extraordinary" cooperation.