Wednesday, May 17, 2006

We're Not Mafia - Enron's Last Defense

Lawyers for Enron's indicted ex-chiefs Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling made their final sympathy plea to keep the pair out of prison - claiming prosecutors treated them like common Mafia thugs.

In an impassioned six-hour closing argument, defense lawyers took turns trying to prove the two men did nothing wrong other than take down Enron in bankruptcy through their own management failures. "Bankruptcy is not a crime. Failure is not a crime," said defense lawyer Daniel Petrocelli.

He insisted that prosecutors tainted the trial process by unfairly building their case against Enron's executives as if they were "tackling a mob organization."

Petrocelli said Skilling was portrayed as "a mob chieftain" and his colleagues as gang "lieutenants" who ratted him out, gangland style. "They take down mob kingpins that way," Petrocelli said.

Petrocelli particularly was annoyed by ex-Enron executive Sherron Watkins, whose famous memo warned Lay about the company's impending collapse from accounting scandals. "She went on 'Good Morning America' and she said that Mr. Skilling was the mafia boss and (CFO Andy) Fastow was the assassin," Petrocelli said, referring to the prosecution's key witness. "She compared my client to a mob boss," he said.

Petrocelli said government witnesses - a string of other indicted Enron executives - were pressured by threats of long prison sentences. Those witnesses' testimony was not backed up by any documents, he said. "Documents don't lie; people do," Petrocelli said. "It's hard to create fake documents . . . but it's not so hard to create fake testimony."

Another defense lawyer for Lay, Bruce Collins, told jurors they must "decide whether Ken Lay is locked in a cage for the rest of his life."

Lay, 64, and Skilling, 52, each face at least 25 years in prison if convicted of charges that they used off-the-books partnerships to manipulate Enron's finances. The jury is expected to begin deliberations today.

Thanks to Paul Tharp

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