Judge Vacates Conviction of Ken Lay
HOUSTON (Oct. 18) – A federal judge Tuesday vacated the conviction of Enron’s late founder Kenneth Lay, wiping out a jury’s verdict that he committed fraud and conspiracy in one of the biggest corporate scandals in U.S. history.
Lay was convicted of 10 counts of fraud, conspiracy and lying to banks in two separate cases on May 25. Enron’s collapse in 2001 wiped out thousands of jobs, more than $60 billion in market value and more than $2 billion in pension plans.
Lay died of heart disease July 5 while vacationing with his wife, Linda, in Aspen, Colo.
U.S. District Judge Sim Lake, in a ruling Tuesday, agreed with Lay’s lawyers that his death required that his conviction be erased and his indictment dismissed. They cited a 2004 ruling from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that found that a defendant’s death pending appeal extinguished his entire case because he hadn’t had a full opportunity to challenge the conviction and the government shouldn’t be able to punish a dead defendant or his estate.
“On behalf of his estate, I’m really quite pleased with the ruling and glad this brings to a close the criminal proceeding against Mr. Lay. The judge engaged in a fair and reasoned application of 5th Circuit law,” said Samuel Buffone, the attorney for Lay’s estate.
Tuesday’s ruling thwarts the government’s bid to seek $43.5 million in ill-gotten gains prosecutors allege he pocketed by participating in Enron’s fraud. The government could still pursue those gains in civil court, but they would have to compete with other litigants, if any, also pursuing Lay’s estate. (emphasis added)
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