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Wed, Oct 25, 2006 - Page 10 News List

Enron's Skilling given 24-year sentence

SEVERE PUNISHMENT Despite protesting his innocence and refusing a plea bargain, the former chief executive was given 292 months and had his property repossessed

AFP , HOUSTON, TEXAS

Former Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling was sentenced on Monday to more than 24 years in prison for fraud and conspiracy in one of the biggest corporate scandals in US history.

"Crimes of this magnitude deserve severe punishment," Judge Sim Lake said when announcing the 292-month sentence.

"Today's sentence is a measure of justice for the thousands of people who lost their jobs and millions of dollars in investments when Enron collapsed," said Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher.

"Jeffrey Skilling will now spend more than 24 years in prison for committing one of the largest frauds in the history of corporate America," Fisher said.

Skilling, 52, who had faced a possible 185 years in jail, showed little emotion as his sentence was handed down.

A jury convicted him in May of 19 counts of conspiracy, fraud and insider trading.

The disgraced former chief executive will also forfeit about US$45 million in assets, including his home.

He had earlier told the court he planned to appeal his conviction stemming from the 2001 collapse of the Houston-based energy giant under a mountain of shady deals.

"I am innocent of these charges," Skilling said as a host of former employees looked on.

Skilling's sentencing closes the book on the major players in the Enron scandal, which epitomized corporate greed in the heady days of the Internet boom.

Enron founder Kenneth Lay, Skilling's co-defendant in their four-month trial, died of heart failure in July before he could be sentenced.

Lay's convictions on 10 counts of fraud, conspiracy and banking violations was thrown out last week because he died before he could appeal the verdict.

Enron's spectacular collapse in 2001, then the largest corporate bankruptcy in history with more than US$40 billion in outstanding debt, rattled energy and stock markets. Thousands lost their jobs and savings.

Enron's chief financial officer Andrew Fastow pleaded guilty in 2004 and was the prosecution's most effective witness against Skilling and Lay.

He was sentenced to six years in prison last month.

Skilling was released on Monday to house arrest supervised by an electronic bracelet before he is to report to a North Carolina jail on a date yet to be determined.

Asked by reporters why he did not reach a plea agreement that could have saved him years in jail, Skilling said he could not admit to crimes he does not believe he committed.

"I'm sorry I can't do that," he said on the courthouse steps. "I am not guilty."

Before being sentenced, Skilling faced a host of disgruntled former employees.

"You should be ashamed," said Ann Beliveaux, an 18-year employee who lost her entire retirement savings of US$500,000.

"When things got bad, you jumped ship," she said, adding that Enron's collapse was "only because of your greed."

Kevin Hyatt, who worked for 17 years for Enron, said in the last five years of his employment he "witnessed a competitive, me-first culture." This, he said, was "actively cultivated by management."

FBI Assistant Director Chip Burrus said the occasion served as a warning against malfeasance in the boardroom.

"Corporate crooks should beware, if you decide to use business coffers as your personal piggy bank at the expense of investors and employees, you risk loss of personal freedom," Burrus said in a statement.

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