Houston: Ex-Enron Corp CEO Jeffrey Skilling — seen by many as exemplifying the worst in corporate fraud and greed in America — could be released from prison in about four years after a federal judge on Friday shaved off a decade from his original sentence of more than 24 years.
Skilling’s resentencing during a packed courtroom hearing brought one of America’s most notorious financial scandals — the collapse of the once-mighty energy giant — to a conclusion that upset some former Enron workers.
Ex-Enron worker Diana Peters, the only victim who spoke at the resentencing hearing, said afterward in a phone interview that Skilling should have to serve his entire original sentence.
“Jeffrey Skilling has never taken any responsibility for his actions,” said the 63-year-old Peters, who lives in Huntsville, north of Houston. “He has no remorse for the end result of what happened.”
The Justice Department said in order to resolve a case that’s gone on for more than 10 years, it agreed to an additional reduction of about 20 months as part of a deal to stop Skilling from filing any more appeals. Federal prosecutors say it will allow for $41.8 million (Dh153.52 million) of Skilling’s assets to be distributed as restitution to victims of Enron’s 2001 collapse.
Skilling, 59, who has been in prison since 2006, declined to make a statement during Friday’s hearing.
His attorney, Daniel Petrocelli, said he disagrees with claims that his client, who “still maintains his innocence,” never expressed remorse for what happened at Enron. He said Skilling wasn’t aware of the illegal activities of others but “took complete responsibility for all the actions” at the company.
Petrocelli said the reduction, combined with time off for good behaviour and other factors, means Skilling is likely to be released by 2017.
During the hearing, prosecutor Patrick Stokes criticised Skilling for continuing “to cast himself as a victim” and said Skilling “is anything but a victim.”
“Mr Skilling was not only at the pinnacle of Enron, he was at the pinnacle of the fraud schemes,” Stokes said.
Once the money from Skilling’s assets is added, about $560 million in restitution will have been collected for victims of the Enron scandal, Stokes said.
Former Enron employee George Maddox said he still blames Skilling for his losing $1.3 million in retirement savings when Enron collapsed. Maddox worked for 30 years as a plant manager with the company.
“Long sentences are for no one but poor people,” said Maddox, 79, who lives in the East Texas town of Van and is now supporting his 16-year-old grandson and himself mainly on Social Security income.
Even with the reduced sentence, Skilling’s prison term is still the longest of those involved in the Enron scandal. He was the highest-ranking executive to be punished. Enron founder Kenneth Lay’s similar convictions were vacated after he died of heart disease less than two months after his trial.
Skilling was convicted in 2006 on 19 counts of conspiracy, securities fraud, insider trading and lying to auditors for his role in the downfall of Houston-based Enron. The company, once the seventh-largest in the US, went bankrupt under the weight of years of illicit business deals and accounting tricks.
Enron’s collapse put more than 5,000 people out of work, wiped out more than $2 billion in employee pensions and rendered worthless $60 billion in Enron stock. Its aftershocks were felt across Houston and the US energy industry.