Just as we're starting to get some of the worst corporate crooks in recent memory behind bars -- and it looks like at least one infamous con man is starting to mix it up with his new neighbors -- a well-known white collar criminal hopes to win a reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court.
The high court has agreed to take the case of Jeffrey Skilling, who was sentenced to 24 years in prison in the epic billion-dollar destruction of Enron, the former energy-trading giant. Along with chairman Kenneth Lay, Skilling was convicted of cooking the books and concocting secret partnerships to deceive the world about the company's dire financial situation. The Supreme Court could overturn Skilling's conviction, resulting in a new trial. Meanwhile, a separate hearing to shorten his 24-year sentence is pending.
In the aftermath of Enron's collapse -- which destroyed $50 billion in shareholder equity and $2 billion in employee pension plans -- Skilling and his colleagues became poster children for corporate misbehavior. Enron's top leaders concealed the company's massive fraud while enriching themselves and leading lavish lifestyles. They came to represent a kind of gun-slinging, Texas bravado gone very wrong.
Skilling, a 55-year-old former McKinsey consulting hotshot, was convicted on charges of conspiracy, securities fraud, insider trading and lying to auditors, and fined $45 million. Throughout his trial, Skilling maintained his innocence.
Skilling's lawyers argue that his conviction was flawed because prosecutors needed to show that he was trying to advance his own interests, rather than Enron's interest. The statute in question covers mail and wire fraud schemes to "deprive another of the intangible right to honest services," according to Bloomberg. The same issue has been raised in the case of former Hollinger honcho and British Lord, Conrad Black, whose appeal the Supreme Court has also agreed to hear.
Skilling's lawyers also argue that pretrial media coverage -- and there was a lot of that -- unfairly prejudiced the Houston jury.
Incredibly, Skilling's lawyers argue that because Enron's collapse caused financial hardship for so many people in Houston, Skilling, who helped cause and conceal Enron's misdeeds, could not receive a fair trial there.
In January, a New Orleans-based federal appeals court upheld Skilling's conviction on a 3-0 vote.
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