Attorneys for former Westar Energy Inc. executives David C. Wittig and Douglas T. Lake, accused by federal prosecutors of looting the state's largest electric utility, attacked the government's case again Tuesday, seeking either a dismissal or more detail about the charges.
"The indictment throws around these pejorative words but doesn't tell you anything," said Paula Junghans, an attorney for Wittig. "The government's burden is to make its charges precise."
Wittig, 48, of Topeka, is the company's former chief executive; Lake, 54, of New Canaan, Conn., is the former executive vice president. They each face 40 federal charges, including conspiracy, wire fraud and falsification of records. The two men are scheduled to go to trial Oct. 12 in Kansas City, Kan.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Julie A. Robinson considered pretrial issues raised by Wittig's and Lake's attorneys.
A federal grand jury indicted Wittig and Lake in December but issued a new, revised indictment last month. Wittig and Lake pleaded not guilty to the revised indictment's charges Tuesday, as they had to the original indictment in December.
Robinson said she will hear more arguments on whether the charges against them should be dismissed during a hearing Sept. 13.
But Robinson did rule from the bench that the government in some cases needed to spell out more details. She also was skeptical that Wittig and Lake, who left the company late in 2002, did not know what was being alleged.
"From what I've heard so far, the defendants understand what the allegations are," Robinson said. "They just don't accept that they're a crime."
The judge is also considering a request from Wittig to suppress testimony he gave before a federal grand jury in September 2002. His attorneys contend that Assistant U.S. Attorney Rich Hathaway acted improperly because he did not tell Wittig he was the grand jury's target.
Hathaway said he did nothing improper and suggested that Wittig's and Lake's attorneys "have done everything they could to derail this case."
Another Wittig attorney, Adam Hoffinger, said he was offended, adding, "All I'm trying to do is defend my client."
Robinson denied the defendants' request that they be tried separately. She said that because the case involves an alleged conspiracy, jurors would hear the same evidence if separate trials were held.
Meanwhile, attorneys for Wittig and Lake renewed their attempts to have Westar cover their defense costs.
Robinson has restricted the pair's financial activities in an effort to preserve assets prosecutors hope to seize. The U.S. attorney's office hopes to recover $25.5 million from Wittig and $7.5 million from Lake -- compensation and other property the defendants obtained while working for the utility.
But their attorneys argued Tuesday that even if Wittig and Lake were convicted, the government could seize only assets derived from their alleged crimes, not everything they earned while at Westar. And, the attorneys said, the company had a policy of paying for executives' legal expenses well before the two men arrived.
Wittig joined the company as a vice president in 1995 and eventually rose to chief executive. Lake joined the company in 1998.
Wittig resigned in November 2002, after his indictment in a separate bank loan case. The next month, Westar's board forced Lake out of his job.