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Enron's Lay indicted
Former Enron CEO indicted by grand jury in Houston, says he's "done nothing wrong."
July 7, 2004: 7:32 PM EDT

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Former Enron Chairman and CEO Kenneth Lay has been indicted by a grand jury in Houston, his spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday.

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CNNfn takes a closer look at ex-Enron CEO Ken Lay, who helped build the energy giant and had a front row seat for its spectacular demise.

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The indictment remains under seal and is expected to be unsealed Thursday. The Justice Department declined to comment.

"I have been advised that I have been indicted," Lay said through a spokeswoman. "I will surrender in the morning. I have done nothing wrong, and the indictment is not justified."

Enron filed for bankruptcy Dec. 2, 2001 after investigators found it had used partnerships to conceal more than $1 billion in debt and inflate profits. The company once ranked as the country's seventh-largest.

Several former Enron executives, including former Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow, have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government. Fastow was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Former CEO Jeffrey Skilling pleaded not guilty this year to fraud, insider trading and lying about Enron's finances.

Lay, 62, guided Enron for years, shaping the once-obscure pipeline company into a world-leading energy trading concern.

The Houston-based company's collapse was the first of several high-profile scandals at some of the country's top corporations, among them WorldCom, Global Crossing, Adelphia Communications and Tyco International.

By indicting Lay, prosecutors have finally reached the highest, if not the final, rung at the fallen energy giant. While details of the charges are not yet publicly known, prosecutors are expected to focus at least part of their case on assurances Lay gave, in the months leading up to Enron's fall, to employees about the company's financial health at the same time that he was quietly unloading his own Enron stock.

In recent days, as rumors spread that an indictment was near, Lay and his defense lawyers have mounted a public campaign declaring his innocence in the hopes of warding off criminal charges. Lay and his advisers have argued that he knew nothing of the secret partnerships managed by Fastow and fully believed in the company's long-term viability when he urged employees to hold onto their Enron shares.

Kirby Behre, a former federal prosecutor who is now in private practice in Washington, D.C., said it comes as no surprise that Lay has been charged. "The government seems to have successfully worked its way up the food chain and enlisted the help of senior officers of the company who obviously were cooperating."

But the two-and-half-year lapse between Enron's bankruptcy and the indictment that's expected to be announced Thursday has caused some former federal prosecutors to question the strength of the government's case against Lay.

They said the scope of the indictment that could be announced as early as Thursday would be telling.

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"I've been rather skeptical based on how long it has taken and the nature of the charges that have been brought to date [against Enron officials] whether they would ever get to Ken Lay," said Jacob Frenkel, who was once a federal prosecutor and enforcement lawyer at the Securities and Exchange Commission. Frenkel is now a defense lawyer in Washington, D.C.

Both Behre and Frenkel pointed to ex-CFO Fastow as the likely missing link who gave the government the inside information it needed to bring the indictment.

"I don't think Fastow would have gotten the plea offer he did unless he had something to deliver on Ken Lay," said Behre, now a partner in Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker.

Behre added, however, that he was surprised by the timing of the indictment in light of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last week that prompted James Comey, the No. 2 official in the Justice Department, to tell prosecutors to be far more specific about charges spelled out in indictments generally.

Behre said he figured the high court ruling would have caused a delay as prosecutors re-worked the indictment to conform with the new mandate. That said, Behre noted that prosecutors can always bring a superseding indictment against Lay later.

Lay's indictment follows the filing of criminal charges against other former high-flying executives, including Bernard Ebbers of WorldCom, Richard Scrushy of HealthSouth and Enron's own ex-CEO Skilling.

To date the federal government has launched 30 separate prosecutions related to Enron's implosion, including a criminal case that brought down auditor Arthur Andersen two years ago and criminal probes of about 20 former Enron employees. Of those, 11 have resulted in convictions or guilty pleas.  Top of page

-- From CNN/Money's Krysten Crawford and CNN's Kelli Arena

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