- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 4, 2004

BRYAN, Texas — As the heiress to a grocery and real estate fortune, Lea Fastow is accustomed to creature comforts. As a federal prisoner, she will be one of hundreds toiling at menial jobs, sharing bathrooms and lining up at chow time.

A regimented existence awaits the wife of former Enron Corp. finance chief Andrew Fastow, who pleaded guilty in January to a tax crime for helping her husband hide illicit income from one of his many shady deals.

“She will go from living in a huge house to living in a room that may be smaller than her walk-in closet,” said Karen Bond, a Columbus, Ohio, advocate for federal prisoners who served part of a three-year sentence for interstate securities fraud at a federal prison camp for women in Fort Worth, Texas. “To me, that was a shock.”

At her sentencing hearing on Wednesday, Fastow’s attorneys plan to ask U.S. District Judge David Hittner to recommend that she serve her time at the only other minimum-security women’s federal prison camp in Texas — a 37.5-acre complex with about 940 inmates in Bryan.

Her attorneys and prosecutors want Judge Hittner to approve a plea agreement that calls for five months in prison and five months’ home confinement, followed by probation. If Judge Hittner rejects the request, Fastow faces more prison time or could withdraw her guilty plea and go to trial on six counts of filing false tax forms and conspiracy.

“Lea has asked for no favors, only that she be treated fairly. She has asked for no special treatment,” said Mike DeGeurin, her lead attorney. “The Bryan camp is where someone in Lea’s situation would normally be designated.”

About 90 miles northwest of Houston, the Bryan facility, a former military academy for boys, features buildings and prison-issue shorts, T-shirts and pants of the same khaki color.

A taller adjacent chain-link fence topped with razor wire encloses the rest of the complex.

“For most women, it is not so much the razor wire as it is the psychological sense that is so traumatic and hard to deal with, especially for white-collar professionals with an education,” Miss Bond said.

Most low- and minimum-security federal inmates nationwide were convicted of drug crimes. About 4 percent are white-collar criminals, the FBI reports. The bureau usually follows judges’ recommendations of where to send inmates, particularly if the prison is within 500 miles of the inmate’s home.

If Fastow serves her time at Bryan, she will sleep on a bunk bed in a room with three women that opens into a dormitorylike setting in one of two housing units, said prison bureau spokesman Dan Dunne.

Each housing unit has two community bathrooms, a common area with one television, and a “general use” room where inmates can sit and read, knit or do vocational studies. Each unit also has a laundry room.

Inmates are allotted 300 minutes of phone time a month — or 10 minutes a day — and all calls, except those to attorneys, are recorded.

All able-bodied inmates are required to work at assigned jobs for pay of 12 cents to 40 cents an hour. Work assignments include kitchen duty, grounds maintenance, checking out books from the prison library and stocking supplies in a warehouse. They work 7.5 hours a day, five days a week, Mr. Dunne said.

Inmates serving less than a year typically serve food or do other kitchen duties, and longer-term inmates get more desirable jobs, such as groundskeeping or library maintenance.

For recreation, the Bryan facility has in the center a small field for softball and soccer surrounded by a walking track. Portable basketball goals can be set out for use. Inmates also can do arts and crafts, such as ceramics and painting, Mr. Dunne said.

“Inmates at these institutions are not receiving any unnecessary privileges. They are not comfortable settings,” Mr. Dunne said.

Fastow pleaded guilty to filing a false tax form as part of a package plea deal involving her husband’s much larger criminal case. Her husband pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy, admitting to masterminding schemes to manipulate Enron’s appearance of financial health while working to enrich himself at the company’s expense. She admitted to helping him hide the ill-gotten money.

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