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How Cooking the Books Works

        Money | Scams

Enron: Discovering Fraud

On August 15, Sherron Watkins, an Enron VP, wrote an anonymous letter to Ken Lay that suggested Skilling had left because of accounting improprieties and other illegal actions. She questioned Enron's accounting methods and specifically cited the Raptor transactions.

Later that same month, Chung Wu, a UBS PaineWebber broker in Houston, sent an e-mail to 73 investment clients saying Enron was in trouble and advising them to consider selling their shares.

Sherron Watkins then met with Ken Lay in person, adding more details to her charges. She noted that the SPEs had been controlled by Enron's CFO, Fastow, and that he and other Enron employees had made their money and left only Enron at risk for the support of the Raptors. (The Raptor deals were written such that Enron was required to support them with its own stock.) When Enron's stock fell below a certain point, the Raptors' losses would begin to appear on Enron's financial statements. On October 16, Enron announced a third quarter loss of $618 million. During 2001, Enron's stock fell from $86 to 30 cents. On October 22, the SEC began an investigation into Enron's accounting procedures and partnerships. In November, Enron officials admitted to overstating company earnings by $57 million since 1997. Enron, or "the crooked E," filed for bankruptcy in December of 2001.

Where Are They Now?

Enron's CFO, Andrew Fastow, was behind the complex network of partnerships and many other questionable practices. He was charged with 78 counts of fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering. Fastow accepted a plea agreement in January 2004. After pleading guilty to two counts of conspiracy, he was given a 10-year prison sentence and ordered to pay $23.8 million in exchange for testifying against other Enron executives.

Jeff Skilling and Ken Lay were both indicted in 2004 for their roles in the fraud. According to the Enron Web site, "Enron is in the midst of liquidating its remaining operations and distributing its assets to its creditors. "

On May 25, 2006, a jury in a Houston, Texas federal court found both Skilling and Lay guilty. Jeff Skilling was convicted of 19 counts of conspiracy, fraud, insider trading and making false statements. Ken Lay was convicted of six counts of conspiracy and fraud. In a separate trial, Lay was also found guilty on four counts of bank fraud.

Kenneth Lay died of a heart attack on July 5, 2006, and a federal judge ruled that his conviction was void because he died before he had a chance to appeal. On October 23, 2006, Skilling was sentenced to 24 years in prison.

Next, we'll learn how WorldCom and Tyco cooked the books.


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