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Skilling Begins Prison Sentence in Minnesota

Former Enron Corp. CEO Jeffrey Skilling began serving a 24-year and six-month prison sentence Wednesday at a medium-security federal prison in Minnesota after an appeals court turned down his request to remain free while he challenges his sentence.

Under federal guidelines, Skilling, 53, must serve at least 85% of his sentence, or more than 20 years of his sentence. He may reduce his sentence by more than a year if he successfully completes a court-recommended prison alcohol and drug treatment program. Skilling was sentenced in October after being found guilty last May on 19 criminal conspiracy, fraud and insider-trading charges (see Daily GPI, Oct. 24). His co-defendant, Enron founder Kenneth Lay, died in July.

The beginning of Skilling's prison sentence, originally set for Tuesday, was in doubt while a federal appeals court considered his legal challenge. However, late Tuesday, Judge Patrick E. Higginbotham of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a two-page ruling immediately ordering Skilling report to the Waseca, MN, prison.

Higginbotham's ruling suggested there are "serious frailties" on several charges in Skilling's conviction, but he noted, "Skilling raises no substantial question that is likely to result in the reversal of his convictions on all of the charged counts." The only way the court could have allowed Skilling to remain free pending his appeal was for him to convince the court that the appeal likely would result in all of the convictions being overturned. Skilling continues to claim that he's innocent.

In his appeal, which is expected to be filed in January, Skilling is expected to claim his trial should have been moved from Houston because of the negative publicity surrounding Enron, which was headquartered there. Skilling also has charged that witnesses who may have supported his defense were intimidated by the government and thus did not testify.

The Waseca prison facility, located about 75 miles south of Minneapolis, houses about 1,100 inmates, many of whom were incarcerated for committing federal drug crimes. Skilling will be required to work seven-and-a-half hours every day at one of several institutional jobs, which include plumber, food service worker, painter, warehouse worker or groundskeeper. He will earn 12-40 cents an hour. Most of the prison's cells can hold up to four men, with sink and shower areas in a nearby location. The Waseca facility is said to have a highly rated medical unit.

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