- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2006

WASECA, Minn. (AP) — Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling reported to federal prison here yesterday to begin serving his 24-year sentence for fraud and other crimes in the collapse of the former energy giant.

Skilling arrived at the low-security Federal Correctional Institution a little after 1 p.m. in a small sporting utility vehicle. It pulled up to the front gate, and at least four people got out.

Skilling hugged a woman who arrived with him, and the entourage walked into the prison. A few minutes later, everyone except Skilling emerged and the SUV drove away.

The identity of the woman Skilling hugged was not known.

Even if Skilling, 53, earns a few years off for good behavior and for participation in an alcohol treatment program, he will be an old man at the end of his 24-year, four-month prison term. The sentence is by far the longest meted out to any convicted former Enron executive.

Skilling and Enron founder Kenneth L. Lay were convicted last May on numerous counts of fraud, conspiracy, insider trading and other charges in the collapse of the Houston-based firm, which led to the loss of thousands of jobs, more than $60 billion in company stock and more than $2 billion in employee pension plans.

A federal judge on Tuesday denied Skilling’s request to remain free on bond pending his appeal.

Mr. Lay died in July of a heart attack before he could be sentenced, prompting a judge to vacate his conviction.

Mr. Lay “probably would have faced a similar fate if he’d been able to stand up for sentencing on the same day as Skilling,” said Leslie Caldwell, a former federal prosecutor and former chief of the Justice Department’s Enron Task Force.

Andrew Fastow, the former chief financial officer pegged as the mastermind behind the complicated financial schemes that ultimately doomed Enron, got six years in prison after pleading guilty. Several other executives are serving prison terms of between 18 months and five years.

An important distinction, said former Task Force attorney Sam Buell, is that those below Skilling all pleaded guilty to some offenses, expressed remorse and in some cases went on to cooperate with the prosecution. In several instances, prosecutors recommended leniency in those sentences.

“It’s harder for a judge to do that, to exercise that leniency when the judge is dealing with the person at the top who didn’t reach any kind of agreement in the case,” Mr. Buell said.

A better comparison for Skilling’s sentence, Mr. Caldwell said, are those received by other disgraced chief executive officers like Bernard Ebbers of Worldcom Inc., serving a 25-year sentence; and Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco International Ltd., who got 81/3 to 25 years in prison in another fraud case.

“I’ve always thought since the beginning of the Enron case that none of this ever would have happened without Jeff Skilling,” Mr. Caldwell said. “I don’t think it’s inappropriate that he is getting the harshest sentence of anyone.”

Skilling’s attorney, Daniel Petrocelli, did not return several phone messages from the Associated Press.

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