SAN FRANCISCO -- McAfee's former top lawyer was charged Tuesday with stock options tampering that muddied the finances of the computer security software maker.

A federal grand jury indicted Kent Roberts nine months after McAfee, based in Santa Clara, Calif., fired him as its general counsel for what it called "improper" handling of stock options issued in 2000.

Roberts's attorney, Stephen Neal, was traveling Tuesday and was unavailable for immediate comment.

The indictment includes seven criminal counts of fraud, alleging that Roberts deceived investors by filing false statements with the Securities and Exchange Commission and falsifying McAfee's books.

Roberts's indictment comes less than two weeks after two other former executives, Ryan Brant of Take-Two Interactive Software and Myron Olesnyckyj of Monster International, pleaded guilty to illegally rigging options in unrelated cases.

The government's investigation, spanning more than 100 companies nationwide, is primarily focused on the practice of backdating stock options, when company insiders retroactively pick an ebb in the stock price to determine an option's value, maximizing the potential windfall for the award's recipient.

Backdating isn't necessarily illegal, as long as it's properly disclosed and accounted for. As they sift through the backdating morass, the Justice Department, the SEC and state prosecutors in New York are trying to separate the instances of ignorant bungling from those involving calculated malfeasance.