- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2006

HOUSTON (AP) — The government bore down on Enron Corp. as it would the Mafia, intimidating top lieutenants into pointing fingers at their bosses because someone had to pay for crimes that preceded the company’s stunning collapse, the lawyer for former Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Skilling said yesterday.

“This was all manufactured after the fact,” Daniel Petrocelli declared in an impassioned plea for jurors to acquit his client of all 28 fraud and conspiracy counts against him. “Because it’s Enron. After all, somebody has to pay. It’s Enron.”

Mr. Petrocelli sought to drive home in his closing argument the defense theme that neither Mr. Skilling nor Enron founder Kenneth L. Lay perpetuated an overarching fraud at the company because none existed.

But prosecutors, unable to dig up tangible proof, found mouthpieces in a string of ex-Enron executives “robbed of their free will,” who pleaded guilty to crimes they didn’t commit, Mr. Petrocelli said. He asserted that fear of lengthy prison terms and expensive legal battles drove those witnesses to say whatever the government wanted them to in testimony against Mr. Lay and Mr. Skilling.

“That’s how they take down Mob kingpins,” Mr. Petrocelli said.

Lay attorney Bruce Collins, the first of several attorneys on his legal team to address jurors, said his client has accepted “full responsibility” for Enron’s failure — but Mr. Lay committed no crimes.

Mr. Collins said another judge presiding over numerous Enron-related lawsuits in another courtroom will decide whether Mr. Lay is liable for losses incurred by investors after the company sought bankruptcy protection in December 2001.

The current jury’s job is to decide whether he is guilty of the crimes charged by the government.

“Today you decide if Ken Lay is locked in a cage for the rest of his life. Today you decide if Ken Lay is a criminal. Today you decide if Ken Lay committed any crimes,” he said.

Yesterday’s lengthy closing arguments were the last opportunities for the defendants’ lawyers to address the jury of eight women and four men. Prosecutors, who made their closing arguments on Monday, get one more chance in a rebuttal argument today. Then, jurors will begin deliberations in the case that began Jan. 30.

The trial is the premier case to emerge from the government’s 4-year investigation into Enron’s collapse in one of the biggest corporate scandals in U.S. history. More than $60 billion in market value, almost $2.1 billion in pension plans and 5,600 jobs were lost by the time the energy trading company started bankruptcy proceedings.

Mr. Skilling faces 28 counts of fraud, conspiracy, insider trading and lying to auditors related to his activities from 1999 to August 2001. Mr. Lay faces six counts of fraud and conspiracy, stemming mostly from the period after he resumed as CEO upon Mr. Skilling’s departure.

Tomorrow, Mr. Lay will be on trial again — before U.S. District Judge Sim Lake, but without a jury — in a case related to his personal banking. In that case, the government contends he obtained $75 million in loans from three banks from 1999 through 2001 and reneged on agreements not to use the money to carry or buy margin stock. He is charged with one count of bank fraud and three counts of making false statements to banks in the case.

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