- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 22, 2006

HOUSTON (AP) — Kenneth L. Lay’s death wiped away his convictions. Andrew Fastow got a reduced six-year sentence. That leaves former Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Skilling as the sole top Enron Corp. executive who could be given at least 20 years in prison when he is sentenced today for helping orchestrate the biggest corporate scandal in U.S. history.

In addition to the legal consequences of his actions, the burden of lost jobs, worthless pension plans and ruined lives that resulted from Enron’s 2001 collapse has shifted solely onto Skilling’s shoulders.

Mr. Lay’s death and the lighter-than-expected sentence given last month to Fastow, Enron’s former chief financial officer, will work against Skilling when he faces sentencing, former federal prosecutor Robert Mintz said.

Skilling was convicted in May of 19 counts of fraud, conspiracy, insider trading and lying to auditors. Mr. Lay, Enron’s founder, was convicted of 10 counts of fraud, conspiracy and lying to banks in two separate cases. His death in July vacated those convictions.

Both men repeatedly lied about Enron’s financial health when they knew an illusion of success was propped up by accounting maneuvers that hid debt and inflated profits.

“In theory, the death of Ken Lay should have no impact on the sentence that Mr. Skilling receives. But it’s hard to ignore the reality that Jeff Skilling is now standing alone as the figurehead who orchestrated Enron’s demise,” Mr. Mintz said. “There will certainly be pressure to make an example of Jeff Skilling and send a message with his sentence.”

Skilling has had two brushes with the law since his indictment on Enron charges. Last month, Skilling pleaded no contest and paid a fine to settle his arrest in Dallas for public intoxication. In April 2004, he was involved in a scuffle with patrons of a cigar bar in New York City. He wasn’t arrested, but he and his wife, Rebecca, who was hurt in the incident, were taken to a hospital where a blood test showed Skilling’s blood alcohol level to be 0.19 percent.

U.S. District Judge Sim Lake has said he will rely on federal sentencing guidelines, meaning Skilling faces more than 20 years in prison if investor loss tied to his actions exceeds $80 million. Skilling also faces more than $18 million in fines for his crimes.

Prosecutors and Skilling’s attorneys have agreed on an investor-loss figure, but it is in sealed court documents and none of the attorneys would discuss it.

Kirby Behre, a former federal prosecutor in Washington, said Skilling probably will get more than 20 years in prison, but that an exact figure is hard to determine without knowing the final calculation of investor loss.

Charles Prestwood, a former pipeline operator for Enron who lost $1.3 million in retirement savings with Enron’s bankruptcy, said that if it were up to him, Skilling would get 100 years in prison.

“I think about all the families that man helped destroy and all the hardworking people that believed the top executives,” he said.

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