Skilling Gets 24 Years for Fraud at Enron

By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 24, 2006

HOUSTON, Oct. 23 -- Jeffrey K. Skilling, the brash former chief executive of Enron Corp., was ordered to serve 24 years and four months in prison Monday after an emotional court hearing in which he watched a series of former employees blame him for the fraud at the heart of the company's collapse.

Skilling's face reddened but he remained impassive as he listened to five angry and tear-choked workers tell the court about their difficulties since losing their jobs and retirement savings after the Houston energy company hurtled into bankruptcy five years ago.

Dawn Powers Martin, who worked at the company's credit union for 22 years, called Skilling a "liar, a thief and a drunk" who "cheated me and my daughter out of our retirement."

When asked to make a statement, Skilling professed remorse but he spoke with the most passion when he vowed to appeal. "I am innocent of every one of these charges," he told the court.

U.S. District Judge Simeon T. Lake III rejected a defense bid that would allow Skilling to remain free while he contested his conviction in May on 19 charges of fraud, conspiracy and insider trading. Skilling was not allowed to leave the courthouse until authorities fitted him with an electronic ankle bracelet that officials will use to monitor his movements while the Bureau of Prisons determines where he will serve his term. He has asked to be sent to a medium-security prison in Butner, N.C.

Under federal rules, Skilling, 52, must serve at least 85 percent of his sentence, which means he would not be released for more than two decades, when he will be in his 70s. Lake could have imposed a stiffer penalty. Skilling's sentence is second only to the 25-year term given to WorldCom Inc. founder Bernard J. Ebbers, whose company also collapsed during an accounting fraud that rocked investor confidence and prompted Congress to pass corporate accountability legislation in 2002.

"The Enron case is as large and as serious as any other fraud in this nation's history," prosecutor Sean M. Berkowitz told the court.

Skilling entered the courtroom arm-in-arm with his wife, former Enron corporate secretary Rebecca Carter, who sat in the first row with Skilling's brother and sister. During the proceeding, Carter cried and frequently bowed her head. Two children of Enron founder Kenneth L. Lay and his defense team were also present, and they comforted the Skilling family members with hugs and pats on the back.

Nine of the jurors in the long-running trial, including three alternates, also showed up as spectators, looking on from a back row as the hearing played out. Later, they said they supported the judge's decision, as did the former employees who testified.

Skilling's emotional state has been delicate since he left Enron. Over eight days on the witness stand during the trial, Skilling described his spiral into drinking and depression as Enron began to sink under the weight of its financial problems. After he was indicted, he twice had contact with police related to his alcohol consumption, most recently last month.

Monday afternoon, he told reporters that he had suffered over the past five years, at times, he said, even wishing he had injured himself more seriously during a hiking trip.

"There are times I'd say, 'God, I wish I'd died,' " he said.

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