The Marketplace Report: Enron Trial Set for Jury
NOAH ADAMS, host:
Back now with DAY TO DAY, I'm Noah Adams.
Three months, 51 witnesses. It all comes down to this week. The Enron trial enters its final stage with closing arguments today and tomorrow. The jury is expected to get the case in the middle of the week. MARKETPLACE'S Tess Vigeland is here, and Tess, tell us what we're expecting from the prosecution as it tries to wrap this thing up.
TESS VIGELAND reporting:
Well, Noah, really, this is their last chance to convince the jury that this company was rife with corruption and that Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling knew exactly what was going on there. They really avoided some of the pitfalls that some other corporate corruption cases like Tyco, where the jury got confused because of all the arcane accounting rules involved. In this case, prosecutors really made it about criminal fraud. These two men defrauded investors and banks and just about everyone when it came to the financial health of the company.
ADAMS: And tell us about the defense. Did Jeff Skilling and Ken Lay do what they needed to do, there on the stand?
VIGELAND: Well, that's an interesting question, because most of the trial watchers I've talked to say what happened on the stand with the two star witnesses was kind of the opposite of what they expected to happen. Jeff Skilling, kind of painted as a hothead, but for the most part, he wasn't. Ken Lay, on the other hand, has always been portrayed as a very genial guy, yet he's the one who got a little testy during some of the questioning. But I spoke with former federal prosecutor Robert Mintz, and he says what we'll see this week is a return to the basic storyline.
Mr. ROBERT MINTZ (Former Federal Prosecutor): I think we're going to see them try to gain back some of the momentum and try to return to the scenes that they struck at the beginning of the trial, essentially arguing that Enron was a sound company and that while these defendants may have been poor managers, they never in fact committed a crime.
VIGELAND: And the judge made that argument quite a bit more difficult last week, by the way. He said jurors will be instructed that deliberate ignorance of fraud at the company is not a justifiable defense. And Skilling and Lay, of course, spent a lot of time telling this jury that they just had no idea about the accounting gimmicks, that it was all CFO Andy Fastow. He was doing it all under their noses. What this ruling allows the jury to do is say, you know what? You should have known.
ADAMS: So the jury there in Houston could have this case by Wednesday. Ken, I didn't realize this. Ken Lay goes back to court on Thursday for separate charges?
VIGELAND: Yeah. Ken Lay could be in another courtroom, actually, while the jury deliberates on this case. This time, it involves some $75 million worth of personal bank loans, and prosecutors are alleging that Lay basically went back on an agreement that he had with three banks on how he would and would not use that money. It's a related case, because the collateral for those loans was Enron stock. And Lay said these charges are just an effort by prosecutors to get him some way, somehow, if this other case doesn't result in a guilty verdict.
And later today on MARKETPLACE, we'll look at Boeing's $615 million settlement with the Justice Department.
ADAMS: Tess Vigeland of Public Radio's daily business show, MARKETPLACE. It is produced by American Public Media.
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.