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.
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