Picking Over Enron's E-Mail Remains

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By Frank Ahrens
Sunday, June 11, 2006

Perhaps the biggest obstacle that federal prosecutors overcame in winning fraud and insider-trading convictions of former Enron Corp. executives Kenneth L. Lay and Jeffrey K. Skilling last month was the lack of a smoking-gun e-mail that directly linked them to criminal doings at the failed energy giant.

You know, something along the lines of:

Dear Jeff,

Let's defraud investors by using accounting tricks to hide millions in losses and tell everyone the company's in great shape. Also, let's sell our shares of stock and not tell anyone.


Kenny Boy

However, there were plenty of e-mails that did zip around Enron's Houston headquarters and throughout the company, even though the top executives themselves conveniently claimed to have been largely e-mail illiterate.

Thanks to the combination of the Internet, software that lets employers scan employee e-mail for objectionable material and the evil genius of public relations, you can now search a bunch of Enron e-mails. A company called InBoxer Inc. sponsors the search, as a way of touting its business ( http://www.enronemail.com ).

One is from the office of the chairman (Lay) to Houston employees, telling them that their hard work had pushed Enron stock over $50 per share. In return, each would get 50 Enron stock options. Gee, thanks.

There is a mournful exchange between two employees in February 2002, two months after bankruptcy, bemoaning Enron whistle-blower Sherron Watkins's $500,000 book advance. "I want what I had," one writes.

Others include mawkish lines between ex-lovers and forwarded jokes, many of a sexual and otherwise offensive nature. (Remember when we forwarded jokes via e-mail? How 1998.)

We love picking over the carcasses of big, dead things. Here's one more way to do a little corporate autopsy.

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