Ex-Enron chief faces decades in prison

Former Enron Corporation chief executive officer Jeffrey Skilling, facing decades in prison for his company’s collapse, insisted he was innocent yet remorseful today as he appeared before the judge who will sentence him.

Former Enron Corporation chief executive officer Jeffrey Skilling, facing decades in prison for his company’s collapse, insisted he was innocent yet remorseful today as he appeared before the judge who will sentence him.

“Your honour, I am innocent of these charges,” Skilling told US District Judge Sim Lake. “I’m innocent of every one of these charges.

“We will continue to pursue my constitutional rights and it’s no dishonour 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.”

Skilling, 52, also disputed reports that he had no remorse for his role in the fraud that led to Enron’s collapse in 2001, which wiped out thousands of jobs, more than £32 billion in market value and more than £1.06 billion in pension plans.

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

“And I want my friends, my family to know this.”

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

Inside the courtroom where he was convicted in May, Skilling was also to hear from victims of Enron’s collapse before learning his own fate.

US District Judge Sim Lake is allowing victims to speak at the hearing about how the company’s implosion affected their lives.

At least 10 people signed up to speak at the sentencing, including a lawyer for the employees’ savings and stock plans, who had prepared a 30-minute statement.

“The people who have been harmed by the bankruptcy have very strong feelings about the subject,” said Daniel Petrocelli, Skilling’s lawyer. “But that does not shed much light on the reasonableness of the sentence Mr Skilling should receive.”

Skilling potentially faces decades in prison. He 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.

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

Jurors decided Skilling and Lay repeatedly lied about Enron’s financial health when they knew an illusion of success was propped up by accounting manoeuvres that hid debt and inflated profits.

Enron’s crash and the subsequent scandals roiled Wall Street, sent investors fleeing, prompted stiffened white collar penalties and upped regulatory scrutiny over publicly traded companies.

Skilling maintained his innocence before, during and even after his trial, insisting no fraud occurred at Enron other than that committed by a few executives skimming millions in secret side deals, and that bad press and poor market confidence combined to sink the company.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, which Lake has said he will rely on, Skilling faces more than 20 years in prison if investor loss tied to his actions exceeds £42 million. Skilling also faces more than £9.6 million in fines for his crimes.

Skilling has asked that he be allowed to remain free on bail pending his appeals in the case. Lake will rule on that request today.

Prosecutors have also asked that Skilling turn over nearly £97.6 million, which they claim he pocketed while at Enron. The US government had divided that amount between Skilling and Lay. But Lay’s death has left that amount solely on Skilling.

The US government contends about £32 million in Skilling’s cash and property that has been frozen since his indictment could be applied to the total amount they are seeking.

During his trial, Skilling listed his remaining assets as including a £2.6 million mansion in Houston, a £186,000 condo in Dallas, a Mercedes-Benz, two Land Rovers and nearly £27 million in stock and bonds frozen by the US government.

Skilling also still owes Petrocelli and his team about £16 million beyond the £12.2 million already paid in legal fees.

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