Enron Executives Prepare for Trial
SCOTT SIMON, Host:
Joe thanks for being with us.
JOE NOCERA: Thanks for having me Scott.
SIMON: And a lot of expectation of drama I must say. What are we going to see on Monday?
NOCERA: Well Monday the jury selection will begin basically. But I think this is going to be a long trial, four to six months. The defendants, Jeff Skilling and Kenneth Lay, both have said they're going to testify, which doesn't always happen in criminal cases. Andy Fastow, who is the former chief financial officer and faces as much as 10 years in jail because he's plead guilty will be testifying against the. It'll be friends against friends. It will be technical explanations of transactions that we currently think of as crooked but that Mr. Skilling and Lay's lawyers think, will say are not crooked. And it has the potential to be one of the most closely watched business trials, I think ever.
SIMON: Do you think people are going to be glued to their sets the way they were for fill in the blank, the O.J. Simpson trial? Or for that matter, the O.J. Simpson civil suit because Daniel Petrocelli(ph), who represented Ron Goldman's family in that suit is also representing Jeffrey Skilling.
NOCERA: If it becomes a case revolving around personalities and allegations and who done what to whom, absolutely. Although you know one of my mantras about this case has been the more exciting it is, the better it is for the prosecution, and the duller it is, the better it is for the defense. So it's very much in the prosecution's interest to do this quickly, and not get mired in the details. And it's very much in the defense's interest to drag everything out forever.
SIMON: Give us an idea of how complicated both the evidence defense arguments might be for after all what are suppose to be a jury of your peers?
NOCERA: Enron fell because the company was essentially doing a series of transaction with itself through Andy Fastow. Mr. Fastow set up these partnerships. The partnerships were making deals with Enron. It was suppose to be a sliver of the partnerships that were owned by independent investors which were suppose to make them a legitimately arm's length transaction, which of course we all know they weren't. And Mr. Skilling and Mr. Lay are going to say day after day after day, we didn't break any rules. And any rules that were broken were broken by Mr. Fastow and we didn't know anything about them anyway. That's the fundamental defense. And the prosecution's going to say yes they did break rules and oh, by the way what was the purpose of all these transactions? Well the purpose was to discuss the fact that you were running a sick company. And you didn't tell investors, and you didn't tell analysts, and nobody knew it except you guys who were siphoning off millions of dollars in stock options and salary.
SIMON: Any time you have somebody as well known as Andrew Fastow turn state's evidence, it gives the opportunity for the defense to argue well of course he's saying that. He's trying to blame us for his problems, and he's getting a good deal out of this.
NOCERA: Andy Fastow was like a double agent. He was doing on the one hand bidding for Enron, but he was also skimming off the top. And that truly, we don't think Mr. Skilling and Mr. Lay know about. So as witnesses go, he is damaged before he even gets on the stand.
SIMON: Would the defense then be expected to argue well look running a business into the ground isn't a crime.
NOCERA: That's precisely what they'll argue. They'll argue that you know this isn't all that different from the demise of a dot com like Pets dot com. Bad business decisions are not criminal acts. What may be a criminal act is whether disguising bad business decisions through a series of possible legal transactions that add up to a fraudulent picture of an enterprise. We're going to find out if that's illegal.
SIMON: Joe Nocera, business columnist for the New York Times speaking with us from Richmond this week. Joe thanks very much.
NOCERA: Thanks a lot Scott.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.