Skilling's Appearance Riles Former Enron Employees

Former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling

Former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling walks to the courthouse in Houston for the second day of testimony in his conspiracy trial, April 11, 2006 in Houston. Dave Einsel/Getty Images/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Dave Einsel/Getty Images/Getty Images

Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling faces cross-examination by the prosecution as his trial resumes Monday. His appearance on the stand has revived bitter feelings among many of Enron's former employees.

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In Houston, former Enron Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling will be cross-examined by the government starting tomorrow. Federal prosecutors have waited years for this opportunity. At Enron, Skilling had a reputation for arrogance, and inspired respect but also fear in those under him. His appearance on the stand, after all these years, is arousing the emotions of former employees, especially those who still live in Houston.

NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports on the tale of two former workers who are in very different places.

WADE GOODWYN reporting:

Like more than 4,000 others, Adam Plager lost his job and some of his retirement when Enron went bankrupt in August of 2001. But unlike many former employees, Plager has no burning desire to see Jeff Skilling and former chairman Ken Lay spend the next 25 years in federal prison. And here's one reason why.

Mr. ADAM PLAGER (Former Software Manager, Enron): I didn't get hurt very badly because I didn't trust Enron. So I never invested heavily in Enron. I actually took almost anything I could out of Enron.

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GOODWYN: At a Houston Starbucks west of town, former Enron software manager Plager sits down at a corner table.

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GOODWYN: Plager managed a division at Enron which specialized in risk management software. He smiles when he tells you this. Before he came to Enron, Plager worked at one of those energy companies that Enron executives viewed as a dinosaur, Exxon. Exxon was the past, Enron was the future. But when he got to the future, Plager says it was strangely reckless.

Mr. PLAGER: You know, you come out of Exxon, which is where I used to work, and Exxon's extremely tight with their money. They're a well-managed company. I'm not trying to plug Exxon, it's just Exxon was a well-managed company and it taught me how things should be done. And you go to Enron and it was the exact opposite. You know, it was anything you wanted. They spent money like water.

GOODWYN: Plager's position on the corporate ladder allowed him to see certain important elements of the company's culture. And his years at Exxon gave him a body of experiences outside of Enron that many of the other younger Enron employees, and that was a lot of Enron staff, didn't have.

Mr. PLAGER: When we were at Exxon and we wanted to buy a piece of, a computer server, it required almost like an act of God just to get the server approved. And then whatever you asked for, you could just about be certain that that was going to be cut in half.

GOODWYN: But at Enron, Plager got whatever he asked for and only the best. But the company's overconfident culture made him wary. He liked working there, but he did not pour his retirement into Enron stock like so many other employees did. He didn't buy the hype or the stock. And there's one more thing Plager's not buying either, that Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling are going to jail.

Mr. PLAGER: I don't think they'll get guilty. I would be surprised if they actually spent any time in jail.

GOODWYN: Adam Plager certainly wasn't on the 50th floor with Lay and Skilling, but he had 30 people working for him. Connie Castillo was further down. She was a legal secretary who at the time was caring for her dying father. She says she had no reasons to be wary, no idea of the train that was coming down that track. Forty-seven years of work, she poured her money and retirement into Enron stock.

Ms. CONNIE CASTILLO (Former Enron Employee): I believed what I was told, that people had done quite well with the stock historically, and since I had started later in my life, to invest it.

GOODWYN: Castillo is trying to let it go, but not this week, not with Jeff Skilling on the stand.

Ms. CASTILLO: Some of the sting's gone, but with the trial going on, it brings it back. Seeing them on the stand and the words that are coming out of their mouths.

GOODWYN: Like what?

Ms. CASTILLO: I'm completely innocent. That's a good one.

GOODWYN: Betrayed doesn't begin to describe Castillo's feelings toward both Skilling and Lay. She says she believed Ken Lay during those last few months when he reassured the employees that everything was fine. She is still outraged that Enron locked the employees out of their retirement accounts for weeks, as the company spiraled toward bankruptcy, preventing them from salvaging what they could.

Ms. CASTILLO: The timing was incredible, that they changed companies where we had our retirement and stock and it was frozen. We couldn't access it. They managed to access it and sell millions and millions of their stock, but we the workers were not.

GOODWYN: Castillo has a new job and has learned to live as simply as possible. She's still employed by wealthy men who work in large, top-floor offices, but her faith has been shattered forever. She wants Jeff Skilling and Ken Lay to be found guilty and get long sentences. She worries about the jury.

Ms. CASTILLO: I'm hoping that justice is being served in this courtroom. I'm hoping that these jurors can see through these false faces, the same faces that they gave us at these meetings.

GOODWYN: This week, as the government grills Skilling on the stand about his alleged crimes, in offices across Houston, former Enron employees will be following his testimony intensely, and quietly rooting for prosecutors to tear their former CEO's story to shreds.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News.

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