A jury that convicted five former executives from Enron Corp. and Merrill Lynch & Co. of fraud found yesterday that the crime cost investors $13.7 million, an amount that may result in 12-year prison terms for the defendants.
The five convictions, reached Nov. 3, followed a six-week criminal trial in Houston federal court, the first arising from the fraud that led to Enron's collapse.
The trial stemmed from Enron's 1999 sale to Merrill of a $7 million stake in three energy-generating barges moored off the Nigerian coast. The United States said the deal was a disguised loan because Enron promised to pay Merrill back, and that the energy trader committed fraud when it booked the loan as a $12 million profit to meet earnings estimates.
Convicted of one count of conspiracy and two counts of wire fraud were former Merrill investment banking chief Daniel H. Bayly, 57; former Enron finance executive Daniel O. Boyle, 48; former Merrill strategic financial group chief James A. Brown, 52; former Merrill managing director Robert S. Furst, 43; and former Merrill vice president William R. Fuhs, 36.
Brown was also convicted of two counts of making false statements, and Boyle was convicted of one count of making a false statement.
"Executives in corporate America should be afraid," said Tom Hagemann, Bayly's lawyer. "It is impossible to tell from this process what standards corporate America is to be held to."
Yesterday, the jury also found that two Merrill subordinates played a larger role in the crime than Bayly. It concluded that Brown and Furst played leadership roles, using sophisticated means and extensive planning in perpetrating the fraud. U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein may hand Brown and Furst longer prison sentences as a result. The jury said Bayly didn't share similar responsibility in the crime.
The second verdict, coming after seven hours of deliberations, may be used by Werlein to increase or decrease the defendants' prison terms. Sentencing is currently scheduled for March. The jury acquitted a sixth defendant, former Enron accountant Sheila K. Kahanek.
Boyle and Fuhs waived their rights to have the jury rule on their sentencing factors.
Houston-based Enron engaged in a series of off-the-books partnerships that allowed it to boost revenue artificially until it collapsed into bankruptcy in 2001. Enron lost $68 billion in market value, wiping out 5,000 jobs and erasing $800 million in employees' pension investments.
On Nov. 4, the first day of the penalty phase, a prosecution witness said Enron investors lost as much as $43.8 million due to the fraud. A defense witness countered that the loss was as little as $120,000.
U.S. sentencing guidelines recommend a 10- to 12-year sentence for a fraud that costs between $7 million and $20 million. Brown and Boyle could face additional 10-year sentences for the false statement counts.
This phase of the trial was held because the U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether factors that could increase a sentence must be proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.
Under traditional guidelines, a judge can decide if aggravating factors merit a longer sentence.