A former El Paso Corp. energy trader and a ex-Dynegy Inc. trader will be tried separately early next year on charges of reporting bogus energy data to an industry publication. A Houston judge set the first trial for Jan. 12, with the second trial scheduled to immediately follow.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas set a trial date of Jan. 12 for former El Paso trader Todd Geiger, 39. Geiger faces two criminal counts, one on reporting false trades and the other for wire fraud. If Geiger’s trial is delayed, former Dynegy trader Michelle Valencia, 33, instead will go to trial on that date, Atlas said. Valencia faces three criminal false reporting counts and four wire fraud charges. If Geiger’s trial proceeds on schedule, Valencia’s trial would begin immediately after Geiger’s is completed.
Valencia and Geiger were charged separately for allegedly reporting bogus trades to “Inside FERC,” a Platt’s publication. The two, who have both pleaded innocent, were fired by their companies once the alleged data discrepancies were revealed.
For a short period, defense attorneys may have thought their clients would not be tried. Atlas threw out some of the reporting charges in August, ruling that the government’s allegations were too broad and unconstitutional (see Daily GPI, Aug. 29). On reconsideration, however, Atlas reinstated the previously dismissed false reporting charges, but on a more narrow basis.
Atlas said the cases could proceed under the portion of the Commodity Exchange Act concerning “knowingly inaccurate information.” Atlas found that the Act, under which the two were charged with false reporting, would not require someone to know that information he or she provided was false or misleading, and therefore, the charges had to be narrowed to “knowingly.”
Also Monday Atlas said the prosecution will have two weeks to file superseding indictments in either case. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Lewis, who is prosecuting Geiger, indicated he would add charges against Geiger in a superseding indictment without adding defendants. Eric Reed, who is prosecuting Valencia, told Atlas he is less likely to seek a superseding indictment.
In related court news, a plea bargain deal apparently has fallen apart after a Houston judge ruled that the wife of former Enron Corp. CFO Andrew Fastow will go to trial as scheduled in Houston. Lea Fastow, a former assistant treasurer for the bankrupt company, is charged with six counts of filing false tax returns and conspiracy for participating in and profiting from some of Enron’s schemes. Lea Fastow, 41, had sought a change of venue to escape negative publicity. She also had apparently been negotiating with prosecutors on a possible five-month prison term.
“The Court determines that Mrs. Fastow has not satisfied her burden of demonstrating pretrial publicity so inflammatory that it establishes a presumption of prejudice, ” Hittner wrote. “Issues regarding the media coverage of her case and possible community prejudice can be dealt with during jury selection — both with the juror questionnaire and voir dire,” when jurors are questioned orally.
Hittner found that the government did not violate any rules in discussing the case when she was indicted last April. He will not grant individual questioning of the panel by attorneys, but will allow questioning of certain prospective jurors if necessary. He also ruled that he will warn the jury to avoid media coverage during the trial and might order “further safeguards as necessary.”
Andrew Fastow, whose trial is scheduled to begin in April, has pleaded not guilty to 109 charges, and also has asked that his trial be moved out of state because of the prejudice of the jury pool in Texas and especially in Houston.
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