For Enron's Lay, A Day of Jarring Images
By Peter Behr
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, July 9, 2004; Page E01
The government made sure everyone got a good, long look at Kenneth L. Lay in handcuffs yesterday morning.
As the indictments have piled up against lesser officials of failed energy giant Enron Corp., the "perp walk" -- defendant in handcuffs, hustled into the Houston courthouse, obscured by beefy FBI agents -- has typically been over in a few halting steps, as camera crews strained for precious seconds of video that could be looped over and over throughout the day.
Yesterday morning, the cameras fed on Lay. The former chairman and chief executive of Enron is one of the most prominent alleged corporate criminals yet to appear in handcuffs. The symbolism was powerful.
A sole female FBI agent pulled the 62-year-old Lay from a silver sedan parked alone, seemingly in the middle of the courthouse lot. He was stooped slightly at the waist, hands clapped in chrome behind his back. He smiled briefly, then turned right toward the courthouse, showing his back to the cameras, led by an elbow. It took more than a dozen slow steps to cross the pavement.
Prosecutors traffic in image as well as evidence, and yesterday's image sent the message: This moment is for the thousands of former Enron employees, their jobs gone, the thousands of former shareholders, their savings evaporated.
It was a very different image from the one Lay presented later yesterday when he arrived for a press conference at a Houston office building, his pastor at his side, after pleading not guilty and being released on $500,000 bond.
He faced the press and public with the same charm and seeming self-confidence he had used to build Enron into one of America's most admired companies during the 1990s stock market boom. That was a time when the stunning corporate success story he offered, plus a bottomless chest of political contributions, helped open doors everywhere, from the White House to state and foreign capitals around the globe.
Lay took so many questions from reporters yesterday that his lawyer barely got to speak.
With family members seated in the front row and applauding his performance, Lay reiterated that he was unaware of fraud at Enron. He blamed the company's former chief financial officer, Andrew S. Fastow, for devising financing schemes that secretly enriched Fastow and several colleagues, but destroyed public confidence in Enron when they came to light.
As 2001 began, Lay's personal fortune exceeded $400 million, most of it in Enron shares. Business magazines lionized Enron as one of the world's best-run companies, and Lay was making plans to leave his Houston energy trading company for a new life as world statesman and financier.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Former Enron chairman Kenneth Lay and his wife, Linda, walk to a waiting car after he pleaded not guilty yesterday to federal charges.
(Brett Coomer -- AP)
Today, 1 p.m. ET: Bethany McLean, author of "Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron"
Transcript: Robert Bryce, author of "Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego, and the Death of Enron"
The Fall of a Giant
Titans Taken to Task
Video: Kenneth L. Lay responds to the charges brought against him.
Video: Prosecutors announce the indictment against Kenneth L. Lay at a news conference Thursday.
Video: Defense attorney Michael Ramsey spoke to reporters after a federal grand jury in Houston issued an 11-count indictment against former Enron Corp. chief executive Kenneth L. Lay.
_____About Ken Lay_____
Biography: Background on Ken Lay's work history, political activity and education.
Superseding Indictment: U.S. v. Kenneth Lay
_____Enron in Photos_____
Enter Photo Gallery Even since the giant energy firm Enron collapsed in 2001, former CEO Kenneth Lay has insisted that he was unaware of fraudulent accounting and other criminal activities at the company. Nearly three years later, Lay will face criminal charges for his role in one of the largest corporate bankruptcies in history.