January 6, 2009

Enron CEO to get new sentencing trial

A federal court in New Orleans ordered a new sentencing trial for former Enron Chief Executive Officer Jeff Skilling, while upholding his 19 convictions.

A three-judge panel at the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals said Judge Sim Lake, who sentenced Skilling to 24 years in prison, erred by using the wrong guidelines in his sentencing, the Houston Chronicle reported Tuesday.

The panel, however, upheld all of Skilling's convictions, in spite of his lawyers' use of an argument that has been used successfully by other Enron defendants.

Judges have tossed out two Enron cases based on the argument that guilt could only be established if the defendants stole or embezzled property or money.

Prosecutors argued that Skilling's case was different. While he has also not been found guilty of taking money or property through illegal actions, as the CEO he set the agenda for the company, the court said.

Fatally to Skilling's argument, no one at Enron sanctioned Skilling's improper conduct, the panel ruled.

The case stems from the 2001 collapse of Enron, at the time the seventh largest company in the United States. Executives were found guilty of engaging in a conspiracy to convince investors the struggling company was healthy.

In Washington, Acting Assistant Attorney General Matthew Friedrich of the Criminal Division said the ruling is a victory for all those harmed by Jeff Skilling and his co-conspirators. We are gratified that the court, in a 105-page opinion, rejected all of Skilling's challenges to his conviction. Skilling was an architect of the crimes that caused Enron's collapse, the fallout of which is still being felt today.