Fair or Not, Skilling Got What He Deserved

Sure, it's unfair that former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling just received a federal prison sentence that is four times longer than that of former Enron CFO Andrew Fastow, the fellow pretty much everyone agrees was the prime architect of the collapse of Enron. And sure it is unfair that both of these men will go to prison for years and years while Kenneth Lay, the former Enron Chairman, never had to a spend a day in jail for his role in the massive collapse of the company. But life is unfair sometimes. And certainly no one who knows anything about the life and times of Skilling, until today anyway, could contend that he did not have more than his fair share of good fortune during his meteoric rise to corporate prominence.

To the bitter end, and to his sentencing detriment, Skilling refused Monday to demonstrate much regret, or accept much responsibility, for the economic pain and suffering he caused so many people by his action, or inaction, while he was in charge of Enron. "Your honor, I am innocent of these charges," Skilling told U.S. District Judge Sim Lake just before he was sentenced. "I'm innocent of every one of these charges. We will continue to pursue my constitutional rights and it's no dishonor to this court and anyone else in this court. But I feel very strongly about this, and I want my friends, my family to know that."

No one put a gun to Skiling's head and told him to go to trial against the federal government, in Houston, where the pain of Enron's implosion was felt most of all. No one told Skilling that he was sure to win at trial. No one told him that he would get a better deal if he went to trial and were convicted than he'd have gotten had he pleaded guilty and turned state's evidence against Lay. Just ask Fastow had that trade-off worked out. And please don't tell me that a great injustice has been done to Skilling because of Fastow's sentence. One man's good fortune (one man's good judgment) does not turn another man's poor fortune (or bad judgment) into an injustice. In other words, you could argue that Fastow got less prison time than he deserved. But that doesn't mean Skilling got more than he deserved.

Skilling did with this case what he did in his long and now-finished business career. He held the line. He took a gamble. He dared his adversaries to outfight and outwit him. And, in the end, the story of this case and this trial for Skilling is the story of his work at Enron, too. The line didn't hold. The gambles didn't pay off. His adversaries outfought and outwitted him and his associates. And the bluster simply wore off. Skilling rose to power as a scrapper. And today he went down fighting, too.

By Andrew Cohen |  October 23, 2006; 1:10 PM ET
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Federal prisons are full of guys like Jeff Skilling, guys who always believed that they were always the smartest guy in any room. This combination of narcissism, hubris, and sociopathy yields a personality that cannot imagine, even as they do their time, that they did anything wrong. Skilling is going to learn some very hard lessons in the system most of which will center on the fact that a $30K correctional officer *can*, and will, really tell him when to talk, walk, and eat.

Is 24 years appropriate? Who knows? Remember that the sentencing guidelines are hardly the work of our brightest minds. We are the same society that imprisons more people than any nation on the face of the earth. That said, Jeff Skilling earned his ticket to the joint, summa cum laude. He knew what Fastow was doing as he's just too damn smart not to have known. His lawyers are with him all the way to his bank because they, not the Enron personnel who lost their life savings, will get the bulk of Skilling's assets. A pittance will be left for those he wronged but that's our system, folks. Justice for some. That's the pity here: Skilling went to trial when he could have helped so many people obtain some measure of comfort. May he rot with all the other sociopaths who claim their innocence. Even Jesus would have a hard time with Jeff Skilling.

Posted by: Rob | October 23, 2006 09:15 PM

As a former Enron employee I can say its true many were duped, however 24 years is egregious given that many violent criminals receive less, meanwhile, how many "dot-com" millionaires were made that did not deserve to be. Its the market and the madness of crowds. A witchhunt that put Skilling away for 24 is abusive. 5yrs or so would have been appropriate.

Posted by: Mario | October 23, 2006 09:58 PM

get what he deserved?


and why was there no open casket? because I'm paranoid?

then why waste time overturning his conviction?

does someone want that money?

how about the people that lost money?


can you say, unequal treatment?

can you say feudal empires?

can you say take them down?

.

Posted by: so did Ken Lay | October 23, 2006 10:16 PM

Whether or not Mr Skilling received an appropriate sentence perhaps obscures the fact that his lawyers are getting $53,000,000 dollars for his defense. This outrage puts them in the same league as Skilling. This gigantic overcharge comes out of any possible recovery by the stockholders and becomes another nail in the coffin for those, of which I am one, of the real losers in all this.

Posted by: blackc | October 24, 2006 12:05 AM

I agree with the Enron employee, 24 years is nuts and a crime in itself. Why is it a crime to steal others' money, but not a crime to steal another's life by imprisoning them for that long? Ego and lack of regret should not matter as much as fairness should. 6-10 years max would have been more humane and more just. That is, until people are actually hauling gold around again, and not this virtual stuff becoming ever more abstracted, which we call "money". (which has no real value anyway until it is spent or liquidated)

Posted by: Just a human | October 24, 2006 12:15 AM

He should have gone to jail for 1 year, and then been given a judgement against him that would have kept him in the poorhouse until he dies. His crime was a financial one -- he should have gotten a financial sentence. With no recourse to antyy profits from any book deals, movies etc, and no recourse to anyone elses money.

Violent criminals get less for killing someone.

Posted by: Chad | October 24, 2006 12:23 AM

People, what you need to remember is that money is time. For the rich, and those in the position of power, moey doesn't matter. To the rest of us, who just want to work hard and be left alone to live our lives, money is evrything. If I take a job, and have an expectation to be compensated for the time I've spent at that job, then you've "killed"me a little bit, when you take my benefits away. Take this seriously. We are a forgiving society, but god DAMN!, we have got to start standing up for ourselves! There is no reaon we have to be forgiving to a man who gave himSELF millions of dollars in benefits while preventing his emloyeesfrm receiving their tiny tens-of-thousands in retiremnt benefits. Like i explain to my OWN employees, there aresome people who are worth my effort, and there are some who are not. Jeffry fricking Skilling has taken people's "lives" from them. He deserves no less.

Posted by: A guy on the sidelines | October 24, 2006 12:35 AM

I couldn't agree more with blackc's post about the astonishing amount of money that paid for Skilling's defense, while the true victims of the crimes were left with little more than the "closure" of watching him get an embarrassingly unjust sentence.
Hey, crime manifests itself in different ways... sometimes opportunities knock, and sometimes the legal opportunists just quietly slip a subpoena under your door.

Posted by: Rueben Marley | October 24, 2006 12:56 AM

I would remind Rueben Marley and blackc that the attorneys that defended Jeff Skilling are not the bad guys here. Considering the complexity of this case and the stakes for the defendants, $53 million over the course of about 4 years sounds about right. People have the right to obtain counsel when charged with a crime, and Jeff Skilling is no exception. What's the problem with him obtaining the best lawyers he could afford?

Posted by: a | October 24, 2006 02:12 AM

Anyone here who thinks 24 years is unjust is frankly, I think, missing the point. Sure it's sad that most of the recoverable funds will go to lawyers - which is quite despicable. But to have given the guy anything less than 15 years would have been patently obscene.

I could tell you about several guys who tried their honest best to be real Americans who went broke trying to stand up for their rights in cases not associated with finance. They just wanted to show a criminal justice systen that it was indeed, broken and did not want to cave. Their rationale was if they caved then the dirty dogs that put them in their situations would be emboldened to hammer others unjustly. They were victimized by a broken system.

Because they went broke standing up for truth they fell behind in financials. In all cases they received 2 years plus for far less than 10k - ten thousand - in minor arrearages of different types. Strictly financial - no violence - no drugs - mostly guys who made every effort but got boinked anyhow.

Now, you want to tell me that a guy who helped destroy the financial viability of hundreds of people deserves less than 24 years? I think not. Fastow got off way too easy.

Posted by: d nezitic | October 24, 2006 02:19 AM

I hope it stands - he ruined or played a large part in ruining many lives. He doesn't have any sympathy for any of those employees who will now work untill the day they die. He'll go to a comfy federal prison where he can be taken care at our expense. The sentense will probably be overturned in a few years or he'll be pardoned. I have no pity for these crooks. He will find a way to get off.

Posted by: Don Myers | October 24, 2006 03:56 AM

Hmm, I'm very surprised that some here think it's ok that Skillig could spend 53 millions for his defense. Hey, if someone stole your retirement money and gets caught, would you agree that he uses your money for his defense? Strange idea.

Also, it shouldn't be forgotten that thousands of people lost their safety net, saved for old age, by Skilling's actions. God knows how many took their lifes when they faced bankrupty. 24 years in prison is not too much as a 'reward'. This makes sure that Skilling won't likely be able to ever fraud innocent victims again.

Under the 'three strike' rule, petty criminals faced similar punishment for much less severe deeds. Skilling, too, didn't only commit a single crime, he engaged in criminal activities for several years. Maybe his example will 'encourage' other crooks to think twice about the consequences of their defrauding strategies.

Posted by: Gray | October 24, 2006 04:11 AM

Will Skilling's 24 year sentence deter others from committing white collar crimes? Probably not. Let's wait a few years and revisit.

Violence is in the eye of the victim. Here, many victims were violated, not physically in a direct manner, but indirectly in their lives. And there were many victims, whose lives were changed for the worse. White collar crime has a ring around it that is the equivalent of violent crimes.

The death penalty may not deter murder. Long sentences may not deter white collar crimes; perhaps castration is the answer, for the obvious reason.

Posted by: Shag from Brookline | October 24, 2006 05:08 AM

Backseat legalists -- the system we have (which is the best in the world, really) sets aside Ken Lay's conviction because an appeal is a guaranteed right in the system. Rich man, poor man - anyone would have their conviction set aside if they died before they could appeal. $53M on Skilling's appeal ? Remember, Gray, it wasn't stolen money until the conviction came in so when he spent it on defense, he was spending his own money. ANOTHER cornerstone of American Justice: innocent until proven guilty. And as for $53M being too much to pay lawyers ? As "a" said, probably about right. Four years, probably 8-10 lawyers and an equal number of paralegals, plus legal secretaries and office costs..... Probably amounts to around $400K per year for the attorneys. A lot, you may think, but it's not even a million dollars each.

Posted by: two | October 24, 2006 05:33 AM

Of course it it possible he is innocent a victim of bad information. More evidence of a victim mythology in this country. Employees were wronged someone must pay.

Posted by: Stick | October 24, 2006 05:45 AM

The Chief Accounting Officer at Enron was guilty, yet his license as a CPA in Texas was never taken away. We seem to have forgotten what "Public Accountancy" stands for -- now the only thing that matters is whether the government will bother prosecuting a misdeed, whether heavily funded defense lawyers make it feasible to continue, whether charges will hold up in court, and whether the inevitable appeal has a chance. Self-policing doesn't work with CPAs any more than it works with the medical profession, law profession, or any others. Shady business decisions will continue to be made purely on cost considerations of the non-likelihood of being caught and being prosecuted and being fined.

Posted by: Jess Cause | October 24, 2006 08:02 AM

If you 'get what you deserve', then it is 'fair' - by definition.

Posted by: Dave Harris | October 24, 2006 08:15 AM

I wonder is Skilling will get "real" time of Club Fed. "Real" time would be interesting. And being such a pampered multi-millionaire fat cat, you know how soft he is. I wonder how many cigarettes a hard case could get pimping him out on the inside?

Posted by: RobbyDobby | October 24, 2006 08:33 AM

Andrew, regardless of whether it is true or not, I think the argument you are trying to make is that the sentence if\s FAIR, that is to say JUST, but unbalanced relative to what others who commited or participated in the same or related crimes. (In Mr. Lay's case, it is not as though he is on the lam somewhere living it up in the Camans. I continue to believe that most people would rathter be alive and in prison than dead, witness the number of convicts who seek to avoid the death penalty.)

That said, I think given the scope of the crime, its long-term harm to individuals and society, its harm to business reputation and the cost of recovery, the sentence is FAIR and JUST. As far it being unbalanced, well the CFO was a creative genius, but he could not have done this on his own, or at least it appears to most that he could not.

Posted by: Constitutionalist | October 24, 2006 08:41 AM

"Hmm, I'm very surprised that some here think it's ok that Skillig could spend 53 millions for his defense. Hey, if someone stole your retirement money and gets caught, would you agree that he uses your money for his defense? Strange idea."

Yeah, but, until the charges are proven and he's convicted, it's still his money. So, he can spend it on defense.

And, to all you people who say that giving him 24 years is criminal in itself, remember that the sentence the judge gave him is at the LOW end of the federal sentencing guidelines. The judge didn't have the option of giving him a slap on the wrist -- fortunately!

Posted by: | October 24, 2006 09:40 AM

"Will Skilling's 24 year sentence deter others from committing white collar crimes? Probably not. Let's wait a few years and revisit."

It's only very recently that white-collar criminals began getting sentences with teeth. I suspect that this major shift in how these crimes are regarded, and how they're prosecuted, may indeed make a few of these hotshots think twice.

Posted by: | October 24, 2006 09:42 AM

"I wonder is Skilling will get "real" time of Club Fed. "Real" time would be interesting. And being such a pampered multi-millionaire fat cat, you know how soft he is. I wonder how many cigarettes a hard case could get pimping him out on the inside?"

Actually, his sentence is 10 months too long to qualify him for a minimum-security facility. He'll be in a medium-security prison.

Posted by: | October 24, 2006 09:45 AM

Jeff Skilling got less than he deserved, as mentioned previously, how many people lost there retirement income and will now have to struggle during the "good years" of there life that they worked there life for ? I hope he spends all of the 24 years to the last day, he would be 76 and probably have aids because of Bubba and the boys. How fitting for a guy that has no conscience. Hope he enjoys his stay at club crowbar, where his greed sent him. Kudos to the system on this one.

Posted by: Martha | October 24, 2006 10:17 AM

This is why crime pays in America because some idiots in this country support a system of criminal greed that works against their own long term economic interests:

Just one more reason why America is going to hell in a handbasket. Were it not for the system of greed at all costs that is so pervasive in America then I would not be able to believe some of the numnuts (who are either leftwing or rightwing exttremists) who argue that Skilling's sentence was too harsh and unjust. So much for the idea of individual personal responsibility. It seems that the rich and powerful do not have to beld accountable for their criminal actions in America. If it was not so pathetic it would actually be laughable.

Posted by: Reed Richards | October 24, 2006 10:24 AM

I'm wondering why his assets were not frozen until it was determined how he came by them and who they actually belonged to? His lawyers could have taken their chances, or he could have been provided a public defender.
Hopefully, soon after November 7th, we will see more highly placed individuals held accountable for their crimes...

Posted by: Mel | October 24, 2006 10:58 AM

I disagree with the previous posters; 24 years is entirely appropiate.

The harm this man has caused, and the damage it has done to our society is orders of magnitude greater what a garden-variety thug holding up a gas station or a post office could or would ever achieve.

The death penalty would have been excessive, but long term inprisionment most certainly is not.

EdC

Posted by: Edc | October 24, 2006 11:39 AM

I agree that Mr Skilling should be in prison for 24 years

Posted by: moj | October 24, 2006 12:14 PM

skilling should be placed in a cage in a fetid swanp along with a dozen rabid weasels who will slowly tear his flesh away while he screams in interminable agony. Bwa ha ha ha ha ha!

Posted by: CT | October 24, 2006 12:30 PM

Since when is the right to a trial, the right to proclaim one's innocence, a gamble. If one wants to plead guilty, express remorse, and save the state some money, fine. But no one should get an extra kick just because they believe they are innocent or want a trial. Justice should not be a crap shoot, and the overuse of plea bargains undermines justice.

Posted by: W Hoke | October 24, 2006 12:40 PM

"Since when is the right to a trial, the right to proclaim one's innocence, a gamble."

Since the Bush administration.

Posted by: Mel | October 24, 2006 01:35 PM

Yes, Mr. Skilling will do "real" time. Club Fed is a lot better than a lot of state prisons, but it is still prison. There is no parole, and a very minimal "good time" allowance. There should also be a period of supervised release after the sentence is served, whether Skilling gets good time or not. During the period of supervised released, Mr. Skilling could be sent back to prison if he does not abide by the conditions of supervised release.

It is interesting that some think the sentence is too harsh. Many poor people go away for long periods of time, even if all they have done is committed what are arguably "victimless" crimes. A guy who is caught possessing (but not using) a gun, who has three previous convictions for stealing a lawn mower out of someone's garage, is considered an Armed Career Criminal who will serve a minimum of 15 years. Why should a guy who stole the monetary equivalent of 600,000 or so lawnmowers, and ruined thousands of lives, only get 9 more years than that? How fair is that? At least Skilling does not have to worry about how he is going to pay his bills for the next 24 years - something his victims certainly cannot say sbout their own lives.

Posted by: attorneyofrecord | October 24, 2006 05:04 PM

I read U.S. Supreme Ct. reports. I did not bother to read the report of this writer. The one thing of which I am sure is that no person who has not sat through every single part of a trial is qualified to comment on the result. I have never read the report of a case in which I was involved that was factually accurate. (Factually in terms of what actually happened in Court) Every reporter brings his own biases which color his report. He also tends to hear what he wants to hear. Ergo, I have no opinion on Skilling. I could have an opinion after I read the report coming from the S. Ct. should it get that far. Even opinions of the S.Ct. are colored by the biases of the author. Am I jaundiced? I don't think so. I am just an observer in good standing with the highest courts of more than one state. It is also fair to say that I genuinely appreciate our judicial system. On balance, it is the best system known.

Posted by: Philip Sessoms | October 25, 2006 09:24 PM

Just a different point of view for y'all to consider.


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Dear Editor:

Contrary to popular belief, Jeff Skilling's 24-year sentence is
profoundly unjust--and the media bear a major portion of the blame.

Ever since the fall of Enron, those covering Enron have treated as
fact every conceivable ax-grinding smear against the company, while
treating as absurd any explanation for Enron's fall other than a
massive fraud engineered by Lay and Skilling. (One such explanation is
that the company's highly leveraged, trust-based business model could
not survive revelations of embezzlement by CFO Andy Fastow in
post-bubble, post-9/11 market conditions.) During the trial, the media
failed to inform the public that the prosecution was coming nowhere
near proving its central allegation that Jeff Skilling was guilty of
conspiracy.

What explains this conduct? Our journalists and intellectuals, accept
the idea that the pursuit of profit is morally tainted. Thus, they
assume that whenever anything goes wrong in business, it is the result
of crooked behavior by greedy, rich CEOs--and slant their coverage
accordingly. This practice is putting numerous innocent men in jail,
and instilling terror throughout corporate America.

Alex Epstein
Junior Fellow
The Ayn Rand Institute

Posted by: RCMC467 | October 26, 2006 08:23 AM

The author of the article condems individuals for personality disorders such as narcisscism... but in closer read, the author himself reeks of hubris and narcissm in his own condemnation. What troubles me is when "un experts" narrate psychology of unknown individuals as though they are experts in the field, they narrate their own bias in their narratives on business subjects and legal issues they have no training in. The million talking heads and reporters who glory in their own narcissitic articles rereading and editing as if they themselves were the expert and the readers the eager students. Hasn't america had enough of these idiots on TV and in these newspapers. I'll listen to a Donald Trump, a Freud, or any other expert in their feild, but stickto what ou know. And really your bias clearly indicates you didn't learn alot in your journalism class. So I'd hardly consider you an expert here either.

Posted by: just give me unbias! | November 29, 2006 03:37 AM

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