The long-running battle between federal prosecutors and former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling formally came to an end Friday when U.S. District Judge Sim Lake signed off on a negotiated sentence agreement that will end Skilling’s incarceration in about four years.
In agreeing to the minimum sentence within the range of 168 and 210 months, Lake said the interest of justice would not be served by having Skilling serve longer. He noted that the architect of Enron’s rise from an obscure pipeline company to an innovative and diverse energy giant will end up spending more time in prison than anyone else connected to the company’s stunning 2001 collapse into bankruptcy.
“This is not an easy decision to make,” Lake said about the number of months to choose.
“The two most significant factors are the need for the sentence to deter others from similar action and to reflect the seriousness of the offense — 168 months adequately reflects both concerns. The court is not persuaded a longer sentence is necessary.”
Appellate reversals of part of the government’s case against Skilling, as well as one of grounds used by Lake in setting the original sentence of 24 years, meant that Skilling already was entitled to a reduced sentence. The agreement knocked about 20 months off the lower end of the revised sentence range, in exchange for which Skilling agreed to forgo any further appeals.
That finality, which brings the Enron saga to a close, frees up about $40 million in Skilling’s assets to be divided among investors, protects the government from the possibility of more appeals reversals and assures Skilling of at least the possibility of having an extended period of time as a free man before he dies.
He has been in federal custody since December 2006, about two months after he and Enron Chairman Ken Lay were convicted of various financial crimes. Lay died of a heart attack before being sentence.
“This is absolutely a resonable resolution,” said attorney Philip Hilder, a onetime federal prosecutor who represented so-called Enron whistleblower Sheron Watkins, an accountant who became famous when her memo to Lay warning of the consequences of potential accounting scandals became public. “It frees up about $41 million and puts and end to the appeals. And Skilling will have served a significant amount of time.”