- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 26, 2002

A former vice chairman at Enron Corp. who challenged the firm's questionable accounting practices and resigned in May was found fatally shot in a Houston suburb yesterday in what Texas police said was an apparent suicide.

The body of J. Clifford Baxter, 43, was found in his Mercedes-Benz at 2:23 a.m. in a rural area of Sugar Land, Texas, an upscale residential community 20 miles southwest of Houston. Police said Mr. Baxter was in the driver's seat with a single gunshot wound to the head and a pistol in one hand.

Sugar Land Police Capt. David Marcaurele said a note was found in the car, but he declined to divulge its contents.

He said officers, who had stopped to check the car because it was parked between two medians along a highway, had to break a window to enter the vehicle. The car was found not too far from Mr. Baxter's home.

"We have no indication other than it being a suicide," Capt. Marcaurele said.

James Richard, a Fort Bend County, Texas, justice of the peace, ruled Mr. Baxter's death a suicide but ordered an autopsy as a precaution. Mr. Baxter's family could not be reached for comment. A woman who answered the family's home telephone would not identity herself and hung up.

Officials at Enron said in a statement that the company was "deeply saddened by the tragic loss of our friend and colleague, Cliff Baxter. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends."

Mr. Baxter was vice chairman of Enron when he resigned in May 2001, several months before the energy company's collapse. He was identified in an August letter sent by Enron executive Sherron Watkins to the firm's chairman, Kenneth L. Lay, as having "complained mightily" to then-Chief Executive Officer Jeff Skilling about the propriety of several questionable energy partnerships.

In her letter, Mrs. Watkins warned Mr. Lay that Enron would "implode in a wave of accounting scandals" unless the firm halted practices that eventually sent it into bankruptcy.

"Cliff Baxter complained mightily to Skilling and all who would listen about the inappropriateness of our transactions with LJM," Mrs. Watkins wrote. LJM was one of the energy partnerships created by Enron executives that kept hundreds of millions of dollars in debt off the company's books.

The Watkins letter identified Mr. Baxter in a section of her letter that complained there was "a veil of secrecy around LJM and Raptor," another entity involved in the energy partnerships.

The partnerships, according to congressional investigators, were managed by Enron's former chief financial officer, Andrew Fastow, who was paid $30 million for that work in addition to his Enron salary. Mr. Fastow declined to comment yesterday through a representative. A spokeswoman for Mr. Skilling said he "was devastated by the loss of very dear friend" and would have no further comment.

Mr. Baxter joined Enron in 1991 and was named its vice chairman in October 2000. He was one of 29 former and current Enron executives and board members named as defendants in a federal lawsuit, accused by former employees and investors of pocketing $1.1 billion by selling Enron stock between October 1998 and November 2001.

The still-pending suit said Mr. Baxter sold 577,436 shares for $35.2 million.

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