- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2006

HOUSTON — Former Enron Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Skilling, the most vilified figure from the financial scandal of the decade, was sentenced yesterday to 24 years and four months in the harshest sentence yet in the case that arose from the energy trading giant’s collapse.

U.S. District Judge Sim Lake denied Skilling’s request for bond and ordered him to home confinement, with a requirement to wear an ankle monitor. Judge Lake, who told the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to recommend when Skilling should report to prison, suggested that he be sent to the federal facility in Butner, N.C., for his role in a case that came to symbolize corporate fraud in America.

Under federal law, criminal defendants can get two months a year shaved off their sentence for good behavior, David Irwin, a former federal and state prosecutor who practices in Towson, Md., told Bloomberg News. There is no parole in federal sentencing.

“By my calculations, he’ll have to serve 20 years and four months,” Mr. Irwin said. “That’s a long time for a 52-year-old man.”

Skilling was the last top former official to be punished for the accounting tricks and shady business deals that led to the loss of thousands of jobs, more than $60 billion in Enron stock and more than $2 billion in employee pension plans after the company sought bankruptcy protection in December 2001. Skilling, insisting he was innocent yet remorseful in a two-hour hearing, is appealing.

His remaining assets, about $60 million, will be liquidated, according to an agreement among Enron employee attorneys, the company’s savings and stock ownership plans, prosecutors and Skilling’s legal team.

About $45 million will be put in a restitution fund for victims. The remaining amount will go toward Skilling’s legal fees, said Lynn Sark, an attorney for the Enron Corp. Savings Plan and Stock Ownership Plan. The Justice Department allowed Skilling to set aside $23 million for his defense when he was indicted; he still owed his attorneys $30 million as of yesterday.

Skilling stood with his hands clasped below his waist, with attorney Daniel Petrocelli at his side. He gave no visible reaction to the sentence. After court adjourned, Skilling hugged Mr. Petrocelli.

Skilling’s term is the longest received by any Enron defendant; former Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow was given a six-year term after cooperating with prosecutors and helping them secure Skilling’s conviction.

It falls just shy of the sentence imposed on former WorldCom Chief Executive Officer Bernard J. Ebbers, who received 25 years for his role in the $11 billion accounting fraud that toppled the company he built from a tiny telecommunications firm to an industry giant.

Skilling’s co-defendant, Enron founder Kenneth L. Lay, died from heart disease July 5. Mr. Lay’s convictions on 10 counts of fraud, conspiracy and lying to banks in two separate cases were wiped out with his death.

Skilling’s arrogance, belligerence and lack of contriteness under questioning made him a lightning rod for the rage generated by the collapse of Enron in 2001.

“Your honor, I am innocent of these charges,” Skilling told Judge Lake yesterday. “I’m innocent of every one of these charges.

“We will continue to pursue my constitutional rights, and it’s no dishonor to this court and anyone else in this court. But I feel very strongly about this, and I want my friends, my family to know that.”

He also disputed reports that he had no remorse for his role in the fraud that drove the company to seek bankruptcy protection.

“I can tell you that’s just the furthest thing from the truth,” he said. “It has been very hard on me, but probably, more important, incredibly hard on my family, incredibly hard on employees of Enron Corporation, incredibly hard on my friends and incredibly hard on the community.”

Skilling’s wife, former Enron corporate secretary Rebecca Carter, was in the courtroom.

Skilling was convicted in May on 19 counts of fraud, conspiracy, insider trading and lying to auditors. He was acquitted on nine counts of insider trading.

Judge Lake yesterday set investor loss tied to Skilling’s actions at $80 million, which he relied on to set the sentence. With that figure, Skilling faced up to 30.4 years in prison.

Skilling also faces more than $18 million in fines for his crimes.

Victims unleashed nearly five years of anger on Skilling yesterday and begged the judge to send Skilling to prison for life.

“Mr. Skilling has proven to be a liar, a thief and a drunk, flaunting an attitude above the law,” said 22-year Enron employee Dawn Powers Martin. “He has betrayed everyone who has trusted him. Shame on me for believing the management of Enron.”

Some chose not to vilify Skilling, however.

“I can’t state strongly enough, during 20 years, have I seen or heard anything that he was leading a massive conspiracy to mislead Enron shareholders and employees,” said Sherri Sera, a former administrative assistant. She said she, too, had lost thousands in Enron stock and benefits but blamed her failure to diversify.

Skilling spent 11 years at Enron. He took over as chief executive from Mr. Lay in February 2001 but abruptly quit six months later, citing a desire to spend more time with his family. Prosecutors said he left Enron because he knew the company was on the brink of bankruptcy.

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