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Fastow and his wife plead guilty
Ex-Enron CFO agrees to serve 10 years, cooperate with authorities; will Skilling and Lay be next?
January 15, 2004: 1:20 PM EST

HOUSTON (CNN/Money) - Ex-Enron chief financial officer Andrew Fastow pleaded guilty Wednesday to two counts of wire and securities fraud for his role in the accounting scandal that rocked the corporate world and brought down the energy company.

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Former Enron chief financial officer Andrew Fastow pleaded guilty for his role in the scandal that brought down the energy trader.

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Fastow entered his plea in a federal court in Houston and agreed to serve a 10-year prison sentence and to cooperate with authorities.

His wife, Lea Fastow, once an assistant treasurer at Enron, also pleaded guilty to tax fraud in exchange for a five-month sentence. She could have faced up to 37 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

The couple wants to avoid overlapping jail sentences because of their two young sons, their lawyers said.

Andrew Fastow was accused of being the mastermind behind a complex web of fraudulent accounting deals at Enron and is the highest-ranking executive to be convicted in the scandal.

Do you believe a guilty plea by former Enron CFO Andrew Fastow will lead to charges against ex-CEO Jeffrey Skilling and/or ex-chairman Kenneth Lay?

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He had been facing a 98-count indictment and an April trial date. He also agreed to surrender $23.8 million as part of the arrangement, most of which has already been frozen in various accounts.

Under the deal, Fastow may provide information that could implicate his former bosses, ex-Enron CEOs Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay, who are still under investigation but have not been charged in the financial scandal. Both men say they are innocent.

"As a result of that plea, Mr. Fastow is going to serve 10 years in jail without parole," Deputy Attorney General James Comey told reporters. "Equally important, as part of that plea, he has agreed to work with us to hunt down all the crooks involved in Enron crime."

Read the agreements (PDF)
U.S. v. Andrew Fastow
U.S. v. Lea Fastow
Enron litigation documents

Fastow helped mastermind Enron's use of off-the-books partnerships to hide billions of dollars in debt and artificially boost the company's profits, according to the charges against him. Authorities say he and his wife siphoned off some $45 million from those deals.

Fastow's plea is the highlight of a two-year probe that has brought a conviction of former Enron accounting firm Arthur Andersen, guilty pleas from several Enron executives, including Fastow's lieutenant Michael Kopper, and indictments of 19 other people, most of whom are awaiting trial. (For more, click here).

Philip Hilder, a former prosecutor and attorney for Enron whistle-blower Sherron Watkins, told reporters outside the courthouse he expected a quick resolution to the investigation now that Fastow is on board.

"I would suspect it's going to be a watershed," he said, according to Reuters. "I certainly think his information will be very key."

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Houston-based Enron was the nation's leading energy trading company -- and much loved on Wall Street -- until its loose accounting caused it to restate earnings and slash the value of its shareholder equity in the weeks that led up to a bankruptcy filing in December 2001.

Thousands of Enron employees lost their jobs and much of their life savings, and investors lost billions of dollars.

Enron's implosion was among the first of a string of corporate scandals that ultimately led Congress to pass new laws aimed at stricter oversight of corporate accounting.  Top of page

-- from CNNfn's Jen Rogers and staff and wire reports

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