Ex-Enron Corp. CEO Jeffrey Skilling will be standing alone when he’s sentenced in Houston on Monday. U.S. District Judge Sim Lake, who presided over the four-month trial of Skilling and Enron founder Kenneth Lay, will pass the sentence, which experts expect to range between 20 and 30 years.
Lake last week vacated the conviction of Lay, who died unexpectedly of heart disease on July 5 while vacationing in Aspen, CO. Lake’s decision threw out the jury’s verdict in May that Lay committed fraud and conspiracy in the months before Enron collapsed in late 2001.
Lay and Skilling, 52, had been convicted on 25 out of a combined 34 counts against them (see NGI, May 29).
Skilling faced 28 criminal counts and was found guilty on 19 charges, including one count of conspiracy (a joint count with Lay), 12 counts of securities fraud, one count of insider trading and five counts of making false statements to auditors and Enron shareholders. He was acquitted on nine counts of insider trading. Since he was convicted, Skilling has maintained his innocence and is planning an appeal.
Lay was found guilty of all of the charges against him, including one count of conspiracy, three counts of securities fraud and two counts of wire fraud. Lake, who also presided over a bench trial against Lay that focused on four personal banking charges, found him guilty of three counts of making false statements to banks and one count of bank fraud.
Lake, who presided over Lay’s and Skilling’s four-month trial in Houston, agreed with Lay’s lawyers that his convictions should be erased because of his death. The lawyers cited a 2004 ruling by the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which found a defendant’s death pending appeal extinguished the conviction because the accused had not had a full opportunity to challenge the conviction. The appeals court also ruled in 2004 that the government should not be allowed to punish a dead defendant or the estate of the defendant.
Lake’s ruling will prevent the government from seeking about $43 million from Lay’s estate, which it sought because prosecutors alleged Lay had enriched himself through illegal means by participating in Enron’s fraud. The government still could pursue Lay’s estate in civil court, but it would have to compete with other litigants that are also seeking a portion of the estate.
Prosecutors also lost an attempt to have the ruling delayed. A delay was requested to allow Congress time to consider Justice Department legislation that would change current federal law regarding the abatement of criminal convictions.
In their motion, prosecutors said some of the provisions of the proposed legislation “would be directly relevant to the situation presented by defendant Lay’s death.” As an example, they said the legislation would provide “that the death of a defendant charged with a criminal offense shall not be the basis for abating or otherwise invalidating either a verdict returned or the underlying indictment.”
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