- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 26, 2005

HOUSTON — For many, Arthur Andersen LLP conjures up images of the fall of Enron Corp.

The memories are particularly painful for Andersen employees laid off when the accounting firm lost credibility during the Enron scandal. And so today, when Andersen is expected to appeal its 2002 obstruction of justice conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court, they are showing little enthusiasm.

“When I first heard they were appealing it, I thought they were crazy and it was a waste of time and money,” Randy Paschke said. “It’s not going to bring the firm back.”

Mr. Paschke, a 32-year veteran of Andersen’s Detroit office, is now chairman of the accounting department of Wayne State University’s school of business administration.

Andersen’s U.S. operations barely exist with fewer than 200 Chicago-based employees who largely handle lawsuits. Most of its 28,000 workers moved to other accounting firms while others, such as Mr. Paschke, switched careers. Partners lost their capital — investments in the firm of $1 million or more — and may only get a fraction back after Andersen settles and litigates lawsuits.

Yesterday, a federal judge preliminarily approved Andersen’s $65 million settlement of a lawsuit with WorldCom investors who claimed the auditors failed to protect them from the communications company’s historic $11 billion accounting fraud. It’s not clear where Andersen will get the money for a settlement. It likely has funds left over from liquidating its assets or in its reserves for insurance losses, said industry expert Mark Cheffers, CEO of Audit Analytics, a Sutton, Mass., firm that provides market research for the audit industry.

Andersen went to trial in May 2002 with little more than a shattered reputation to save. The firm was accused of destroying Enron records just as the government began investigating Enron’s finances. Its defense argued company policy required the destruction of client-sensitive draft documents.

In its appeal, Andersen says a federal judge’s jury instructions were too vague. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the conviction, calling the firm a member of Enron’s “supporting cast.” Now, it’s up to the Supreme Court to decide.

“It might allow for a little bit of a positive sense of closure for some people, but it can’t replace jobs,” said Jonathan Goldsmith, a former Andersen associate who runs a Web site for former Andersen workers. Recent posts include a reminder about a reunion next month for former Andersen workers in Atlanta.

James Hecker, a former partner in Andersen’s Houston office who never touched an Enron audit, said he was turned away by firm after firm for a year and a half after Andersen became a felon.

“Andersen and Enron, you want to talk about the gift that keeps on giving?” said Mr. Hecker, now a financial planner in Houston. “It just never goes away.”

David Duncan, Andersen’s former top Enron auditor, remains the only Andersen staffer charged with a crime. He pleaded guilty three years ago to obstruction and testified in the firm’s trial, but remains free as he cooperates with prosecutors.

Barry Flynn, one of his attorneys, said Mr. Duncan likely will testify in January’s fraud and conspiracy trial of Enron founder Kenneth Lay, former CEO Jeffrey Skilling and former top accountant Richard Causey, further delaying his sentencing.

“He’s just hanging in there,” Mr. Flynn said. “There are people just like him whose lives have been put on hold.”

Richard Corgel, a former Andersen partner who joined the firm’s internal investigation of the shredding, said he believes the government overreached in its pursuit of Andersen.

Mr. Corgel joined Navigant Consulting in the latter half of 2002 and helps corporate boards with internal investigations.

“We had a lot of very fine people who were affected by this; emotionally, financially, even to the extent of still being chased in some way,” Mr. Corgel said. “It just seemed very unfair as it related to our [employees], the overwhelming majority of whom never had anything to do with the allegations.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide