Time Runs Out for Kenny Boyby David Callaway
Commentary, CBS MarketWatch, July 8, 2004
But indictment likely too late for election
SAN FRANCISCO -- Time runs out for "Kenny Boy" Lay Thursday morning, but thankfully for his friends in the White House, his trial is almost certainly to be held after the election.
That's a shame, since one of the great, unanswered questions in the whole collapse of Enron was what Lay was conspiring with Dick Cheney about in terms of energy policy when the whole corporate house of cards came crashing down on him.
The expected indictment and perp walk of Lay on Thursday comes almost three years after the Houston energy giant collapsed in a spectacular heap of accounting fraud and share losses for investors and 5,000 Enron employees.
And even though he is the 30th Enron executive to face some sort of charges in the collapse, and by no means the brains behind the scandal, Lay has long been regarded as Mr. Big because of his title and cachet in the corridors of power.
With Andrew Fastow, the former chief financial officer, preparing his best canary impression in exchange for a 10-year sentence, both former CEO Jeff Skilling and Lay have a lot to be worried about.
Lay has said he did nothing criminal, arguing that he was too busy glad-handing in Washington and overseas to notice that his finance team was looting the company. It might be tough for prosecutors to prove otherwise. But they're also going after him for insider trading, in connection with selling Enron shares in those final weeks of collapse while publicly telling employees everything is fine.
Lay's attorneys have long argued that he was simply selling shares to pay margin calls as Enron stock continued a three-month, multi-billion-dollar slide into oblivion. But the government will argue that even though he bought some shares as well, he was a net seller.
That the government has managed to secure a grand jury indictment is not as surprising as how long it took, which also plays into Lay's defense. But the fact is that whatever reason for the delay, the charges are being made and we can expect a full trial with dozens of new revelations about Lay's universe of friends and family.
That the trial will likely occur after the election is a disappointment, and already the conspiracy theorists are at work to try to pin the delay in the probe on somebody in the administration. But either way, the renewed interest in the Enron case comes at a rocky time for the Bush-Cheney team, which has long sought to distance the administration from Lay and from the whole idea of corporate misconduct in general.
In a campaign where they will be seeking to offset the "John Edwards effect" by positioning themselves as the pro-business party, the pained expressions of their Kenny Boy on television screens and on the front pages of the nation's newspapers underscore what this administration's true business focus has always been -- a dramatic land-grab for the corporate elite at the expense of the nation's shareholders and employees.
Only truly damaging secrets are worth fighting so hard to keep uncovered. The trial of Ken Lay promises to achieve what the administration, with the help of the Supreme Court, has always hoped would never surface -- the true extent of Enron's relationship with the Bush White House in the first year of its term.
The wheels of justice have been grinding extra slowly on this case, but they have been grinding nonetheless. And now at last it's time for all parties in this despicable saga to put their cards on the table.
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