A puzzle or a mystery

On the afternoon of October 23, 2006, Jeffrey Skilling sat at a table at the front of a federal courtroom in Houston, Texas. He was wearing a navy-blue suit and a tie. He was fifty-two years old, but looked older. Huddled around him were eight lawyers from his defense team. Outside, television-satellite trucks were parked up and down the block.

“We are here this afternoon,” Judge Simeon Lake began, “for sentencing in United States of America versus Jeffrey K. Skilling, Criminal No. H-04-25.” He addressed the defendant directly: “Mr. Skilling, you may now make a statement and present any information in mitigation.”

Skilling stood up. Enron, the company he had built into an energy-trading leviathan, had collapsed into bankruptcy almost exactly five years before. In May, he had been convicted by a jury of fraud. Under a settlement agreement, almost everything he owned had been turned over to a fund to compensate former shareholders.

He spoke haltingly, stopping in mid-sentence. “In terms of remorse, Your Honor, I can’t imagine more remorse,” he said. He had “friends who have died, good men.” He was innocent—“innocent of every one of these charges.” He spoke for two or three minutes and sat down.

Judge Lake called on Anne Beliveaux, who worked as the senior administrative assistant in Enron’s tax department for eighteen years. She was one of nine people who had asked to address the sentencing hearing.

“How would you like to be facing living off of sixteen hundred dollars a month, and that is what I’m facing,” she said to Skilling. Her retirement savings had been wiped out by the Enron bankruptcy. “And, Mr. Skilling, that only is because of greed, nothing but greed. And you should be ashamed of yourself.”

The next witness said that Skilling had destroyed a good company, the third witness that Enron had been undone by the misconduct of its management; another lashed out at Skilling directly. “Mr. Skilling has proven to be a liar, a thief, and a drunk,” a woman named Dawn Powers Martin, a twenty-two-year veteran of Enron, told the court. “Mr. Skilling has cheated me and my daughter of our retirement dreams. Now it’s his time to be robbed of his freedom to walk the earth as a free man.” She turned to Skilling and said, “While you dine on Chateaubriand and champagne, my daughter and I clip grocery coupons and eat leftovers.” And on and on it went.

The Judge asked Skilling to rise.

“The evidence established that the defendant repeatedly lied to investors, including Enron’s own employees, about various aspects of Enron’s business,” the Judge said. He had no choice but to be harsh: Skilling would serve two hundred and ninety-two months in prison—twenty-four years. The man who headed a firm that Fortune ranked among the “most admired” in the world had received one of the heaviest sentences ever given to a white-collar criminal. He would leave prison an old man, if he left prison at all.

“I only have one request, Your Honor,” Daniel Petrocelli, Skilling’s lawyer, said. “If he received ten fewer months, which shouldn’t make a difference in terms of the goals of sentencing, if you do the math and you subtract fifteen per cent for good time, he then qualifies under Bureau of Prisons policies to be able to serve his time at a lower facility. Just a ten-month reduction in sentence . . .”

It was a plea for leniency. Skilling wasn’t a murderer or a rapist. He was a pillar of the Houston community, and a small adjustment in his sentence would keep him from spending the rest of his life among hardened criminals.

“No,” Judge Lake said.

An interesting read, continue here

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~ by blurfroggie on January 20, 2007.

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