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July 19, 2007

Talk about a misleading P.R. campaign

Enron Task Force.gifGet a load of this press release (hat tip Ellen Podgor) from the Department of Justice heralding the five year anniversary of the DOJ's Corporate Fraud Task Force. Here is the press release's description of the Task Force's accomplishments in connection with its investigation into the demise of Enron:

Criminal charges were brought against 36 defendants, including 27 former Enron Corporation executives. Eighteen of those charged pleaded guilty or were found guilty after trial, including Enron�s former chief executive officer, who was sentenced to 292 months in prison. The guilty verdicts against the former chairman/CEO in two cases were dismissed by abatement following his death. The Task Force seized over $100 million in ill-gotten gains and the Department of Justice worked jointly with the Securities and Exchange Commission to obtain orders directing the recovery of more than $450 million for the victims of the Enron frauds.

What parallel universe are these people living in? Here is the harsh reality of the Task Force's legacy in regard to the Enron criminal cases:

The Enron Task Force procured a deeply flawed conviction that put the nail in the coffin of one of the oldest and most respected U.S. accounting firms, costing tens of thousands of jobs in communities and wealth loss to individuals throughout the nation. Later, the head of the Task Force expressed an appallingly arrogant "end justifies the means" regarding the wrongful prosecution of Andersen and other Enron-related cases;

Then, the Task Force ruthlessly ruined the careers of four respected former Merrill Lynch executives and sent them to prison for a year before the Fifth Circuit overturned that atrocity. That prosecution included a disingenuous market loss argument in connection with the sentencings of the four executives, an argument that contradicted the Justice Department's position at the time in a case involving the same issue that was pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

After two trials, the Task Force finally obtained a conviction against former Enron Broadband executive Kevin Howard, only to have that conviction tossed out (the Task Force is appealing that decision). After the latter trial, the Task Force characterized as "harmless error" strong evidence of misconduct during jury deliberations.

For the past two years, Task Force lawyers have been attempting to patch something together to make a case against Howard's former co-defendants in the Enron Broadband case that the Task Force has already lost once. In connection with the first Enron Broadband trial, the Task Force's threatened two defense witnesses (here and here) in an attempt to induce them not to testify, elicited false testimony from former Enron executive Ken Rice, the Task Force's key witness in that trial, and a Task Force prosecutor violated the judge's instruction during trial not to question witnesses on certain subjects.

The Fifth Circuit -- even before the appeal briefs have been filed -- has opined that "serious frailties" exist in the conviction of former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling (see also here), and the stress associated with mounting a defense to the Task Force's questionable case against former Enron chairman Ken Lay almost certainly contributed to his death.

Serious questions remain as the validity of the Task Force's controversial prosecution of the NatWest Three (see also here), an ordeal that is now entering its fifth year for those defendants.

The Task Force obtained a highly dubious indictment against former Enron mid-level executive Christopher Calger (the prosecutor handling the plea bargain hearing could not even articulate Calger's crime to the judge who took the plea), and Calger's later renunciation of the plea deal exposed several dirty secrets of the Task Force, particularly the bludgeoning of former Enron executives into plea bargains.

The Task Force engaged in a highly prejudicial and inflammatory public relations campaign demonizing anyone and anything having to do with Enron.

The Task Force engaged in a dubious tactic of fingering potential defense witnesses as either unindicted co-conspirators or targets of the Enron criminal investigation to deter those witnesses from testifying for defendants in the Enron criminal trials. Strong evidence exists that the Task Force threatened witnesses with indictment (see also here and here) if they testified for the defense in the Lay-Skilling trial.

The Task Force's tactics have had a negative impact on such fundamental rights as the attorney-client privilege, the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial, not to speak of the negative effect on creation of wealth and jobs.

Meanwhile, as noted earlier here and here, many of the Task Force lawyers who contributed to making this mess have moved on to lucrative careers outside of government.

In light of the foregoing, rather than extolling the Corporate Fraud Task Force's accomplishments, wouldn't it be a more productive exercise to examine the cost of the Task Force and its actions relative to the value of its benefits?

Posted by Tom at July 19, 2007 12:20 AM |


Tom K. --

Thank you for your continuing attention to the Enron saga. In my opinion, your post nicely summarizes the big story coming out of the Enron trials fiasco -- namely, the questionable (and often, downright abusive) tactics of the Enron Task Force. Let's hope that these facts become more widely known over time and that they help spur some badly needed changes.

Posted by: Evan Author Profile Page at July 20, 2007 12:06 PM

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