After more than 16 weeks in the courtroom, the fate of Enron Corp. founder Kenneth Lay and ex-CEO Jeffrey Skilling was in the hands of the jury Wednesday. The two former chiefs face decades in prison if they are convicted.
Enron Task Force director Sean Berkowitz, who doggedly pursued indictments against the two men for more than four years, had his last chance on Wednesday to convince jurors that Lay and Skilling had lied on the witness stand when they said they had committed no crimes. Skilling is charged with 28 counts of fraud, conspiracy and insider trading; Lay is charged with six counts of fraud and conspiracy.
“The defendants and their lawyers would have you believe that what you heard is business as usual in corporate America,” said Berkowitz. “If what you heard in these past four months is business as usual, I suggest we all take our money out of the market. They lied to their investors, they omitted critical facts, at times they put their own interests ahead of their investors and they lied to you from the stand. There were a lot of good people at Enron, but there were also a lot of people who committed crimes… It’s not business as usual. Don’t let them fool you.”
The Chicago-based prosecutor pointedly disagreed with the closing statements by defense lawyers on Tuesday, who claimed the government had rewritten history and indicted the two men without any facts. The prosecution “presented overwhelming evidence of a conspiracy at Enron,” with witnesses who admitted they and the defendants had lied. “That’s a conspiracy. A conspiracy is a fancy legal word for agreeing to do something that’s illegal.”
Berkowitz said, “This isn’t Hollywood, ladies and gentlemen. We didn’t make this up. They have mocked the case, ladies and gentlemen, and said it was fictional. We make no apologies for what we presented here.”
As he concluded, Berkowitz returned to some of the government’s opening statements four months ago.
“This is a simple case,” he said. “Black and white, truth and lies. The shareholders buy a share of stock…They’re not entitled to much, but they’re entitled to the truth. They’re entitled to be told what the financial health of the company is. They’re entitled to honesty. They’re not entitled to be told ‘you just wouldn’t understand’…The final word goes to you. The final word goes to people like the investors…I submit, ladies and gentlemen, that when you consider all the evidence, you will conclude that these men lied. I’m asking you to send them a message that it’s not all right. You can’t buy justice. You have to earn it.”
On Thursday, a new trial begins for Lay before presiding U.S. District Judge Sim Lake. The case, which will be heard without a jury, is related to Lay’s personal banking. The government contends Lay obtained $75 million in loans from three banks between 1999 and 2001 and then reneged on agreements to not use the money to buy or carry margin stock. Lay is charged with one count of bank fraud and three counts of making false statements to banks. Lake will issue a verdict in the case after jurors in the current case render their verdict.
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