Enron Witnesses Lying About Fraud, Skilling Says

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Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling testifies in his fraud and conspiracy trial that he didn't spearhead a conspiracy to overstate the company's financial health. Skilling says that prosecution witnesses lied when they said he was part of any such scheme.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

In Houston, former Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling took the stand for his second day of testimony. He told the jury this morning that he did not lead a conspiracy to deceive investors, and he contended that prosecution witnesses were lying about him.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

Skilling faces 28 federal charges of fraud and conspiracy, and he could spend at least 25 years in prison if convicted. NPR's Wade Goodwyn is at the federal courthouse. And Wade, Jeff Skilling today began trying to debunk the prosecution's witnesses. His former colleagues at Enron who have implicated him in their testimony. What's he saying about them?

WADE GOODWYN: Well one of the first things he said this morning was that he never spearheaded any conspiracy. And that anybody who said he did wasn't telling the truth. He said he was a smart guy, but not smart enough to devise a complex conspiracy like that, and keep it hidden for two years.

And then he and Daniel Petrocelli, that's his lawyer, began going through the details of his compensation package while he was at Enron. One of the problems for Skilling is that he walked away with nearly a hundred million dollars, and prosecutors are using that and are really going to use that during their cross- examination of Skilling to beat him over the head. So Petrocelli was trying to get the jury to understand that you could get wildly rich in business without stealing.

It's an indication, I think, of the kind of current Skilling and his lawyers have to swim upstream against. Enron goes bankrupt but Skilling walks away a rich man. And regardless of the relative criminality, it looks bad. So by going through the minutia, Petrocelli is trying to take some of the sting out of a subject that he knows prosecutors are going to harp on when they start in on Skilling next week.

SIEGEL: Now Wade I understand that Petrocelli today began walking his client, Skilling, through the 28 count indictment, count-by-count. How is that going?

GOODWYN: Slowly but not without interest. One of the crimes Skilling's accused of is artificially pumping up Enron's earnings. Pumping the earnings for the sole purpose of beating Wall Street analysts' predictions as kind of an ego thing. If Wall Street predicted that Enron would earn 30 cents a share, by God, Enron's gonna earn 31 cents a share no matter what the real numbers were. And two top Enron executives testified earlier that on the eve of a deadline for reporting the company's quarterly earnings, that that's exactly what happened. Skilling magically found another penny, penny per share overnight after Wall Street had surprised them by actually accurately predicting what Enron was going to report. Skilling said today that he had no memory of ordering those earnings changes. And given how detailed the prosecution's witness testimony was, I don't know how effective his response I don't remember, which Skilling said three times, is going to be with the jury, and I seriously doubt that this response escaped the government's notice.

SIEGEL: Well what, if any, do you think were effective moments for Skilling and his testimony?

GOODWYN: Yeah I don't want to give the impression that Skilling is not having a good day on the stand. He knows a lot about Enron. He's coming across as a reasonable guy, even humble at times. Once today after Petrocelli read a certain section of the government's indictments, Skilling burst out, that's absurd. And he said it in such a way, with this kind of spontaneous conviction, that I believed him.

Now given the hundreds of hours of preparation that's gone into his testimony, that may not have been spontaneous at all. Probably wasn't. But what's important is that Skilling has, you know, has moments like this. Little flashes where he builds his credibility and maybe plants a seed of doubt. Skilling likes to look at the jury. He uses his hands a lot while he teaches them about the elements of his business. And you can, you see his enthusiasm while he's explaining the stuff. It's a reminder what a waste it all, it is that it all ended this way. But Skilling and his lawyer, Petrocelli, they make a good team and they've got a nice rhythm going.

SIEGEL: Thank you very much Wade.

GOODWYN: You're quite welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Wade Goodwyn reporting from Houston on the trial of former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling.

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