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February 5, 2008

The human cost of questionable prosecutions

Gary%20Mulgrew.jpgOne of the more discouraging aspects of the societal tide of resentment and scapegoating that has permeated the Enron related criminal prosecutions has been the utter lack of perspective or compassion regarding the horrendous human cost of those prosecutions.

We already know the horrendous financial cost (see also here) of those prosecutions. However, the the starkest example of the human cost is what happened to the family of the death of Ken Lay, who endured the decline of a loving father and grandfather as he defended himself against questionable charges that in a less-heated environment would likely never have been pursued. Almost equally barbaric is the unsupportable 24-year prison sentence assessed to former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling, whose children are threatened with the loss of their father for most of the rest of his life.

The Enron-related criminal prosecutions have thrown numerous other families into turmoil, such as those of the four former Merrill Lynch executives (see also here) who were unjustly jailed for a year in the Nigerian Barge case. Dozens more have lived their lives in fear over the past several years as Enron Task Force prosecutors routinely threatened prosecutions against most anyone who could provide exculpatory testimony for a defendant looking down the Task Force's gun barrel.

But the enormous human toll of these prosecutions was reinforced by this London TimesOnline article, which reports on the heartbreaking child custody case involving the daughter of Gary Mulgrew, one of the former UK bankers known as the NatWest Three who recently entered into a plea bargain of dubious charges against them. Turns out that Mulgrew -- while forced to live in the US away from his family for most of the past two years -- has had to endure the emotional trauma of having his six-year-old daughter taken by his estranged ex-wife to live in Tunisia with the ex-wife's new boyfriend, "Abdul." Based on the difficulty of attempting to enforce Western legal obligations in an Islamic legal system, Mulgrew and his family must be going through a living hell in trying to rescue his daughter from a repressive Islamic culture.

To my knowledge, none of this human drama has been mentioned in the US mainstream media, which has moved on from Enron in its inexhaustible search for the next scapegoats. Wasn't the damage to families and careers that the government and the mainstream media left in the wake of the Enron-related prosecutions enough to satiate our resentment?

Sadly, I don't think so.

Posted by Tom at February 5, 2008 12:15 AM |


Your view that the Enron prosecutions were questionable is not widely held. Indeed, the strength of those charges is precisely why white collar crime statutes and bankruptcy laws have been made more punitive.

As for the NatWest Three case, it seems to me that the fellow is a primarily victim of an unwise choice of spouse, not an unjust prosecution. International custody disputes are common place among those facing charges and those who are not, alike. Florence, Colorado is full of families that have uprooted themselves to make lives close to family members in the many prisons in the area (a fact that has produced a state championship football team), and Iraq is full of families that risk lives and fortunes to support their family members militarily detained indefinitely in Basra, long from their homes in places where members of their creed are persecuted.

Posted by: Andrew Oh-Willeke Author Profile Page at February 6, 2008 6:07 PM

Andrew --

The fact that the Enron prosecutions are not more widely viewed as being questionable is precisely the problem that Tom K. and others have been addressing. And the fact that legislators, most of whom are largely ignorant of the facts behind the Enron cases, have used the prosecutions to motivate more punitive sentencing is doubly troubling.

A review of the transcripts of the Enron trials clearly reveals the weaknesses of the charges. And, of course, the dismal trial record of the prosecutors reinforces the fact that most of the charges made no sense in the first place. Combining those results with the questionable tactics used by the Enron Task Force throughout the prosecutions strongly indicates that the needed reform is not longer sentences, but rather more oversight of the DOJ and a plugging of the holes which allow such misconduct on the part of prosecutors.

Posted by: Evan Author Profile Page at February 7, 2008 8:39 AM

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