If Ken Lay�s sudden
death Wednesday from a massive coronary at 64 shocks one, it also raises the
queasy questions, was the heart attack really the culprit? Or was Kenneth Lay a
man who knew too much, and was therefore too dangerous to live?
In fact, in the
wake of his passing, comes another bizarre twist, that Lay�s death can void the
guilty verdict against him, even spare his survivors financial ruin, and
challenge the government to seize his remaining real estates and financial
What�s more, the LA
Times yesterday reported (Death
Puts Lay Conviction in Doubt), "Beneath the surface, hard feelings
continued to fester, as shown by the reaction of some callers to news radio
KTRH-AM (740) in Houston scant hours after Lay�s death. More than one caller
expressed doubts that Lay really was dead and wondered whether the reports of
his demise weren�t part of an insurance scam.�
death echoes the equally shocking death of Enron�s vice chairman Clifford
Baxter on January 25, 2002. Baxter was found by police inside his Mercedes at
2:23 a.m., near his home in the
wealthy Sugar Land, Texas, suburb, dead supposedly from a self-inflicted
gunshot wound to his head
Yet under Baxter�s EVIDENCE OF INJURY, page 3 of the coroner�s report notes "The defect is stellate and, when
the wound edges are repositioned, measures 7.2 centimeters in the horizontal
direction and 4.5 centimeters in the vertical direction." As apfn.org reports, �This suggests a wound
inflicted by a starburst of rat shot pellets which were far enough from the
muzzle of the weapon to have separated from one another by as much as 2.83
inches. Who would, or could, shoot themselves in the temple like this?�
This leaves at the
very least a reasonable doubt that Baxter committed suicide. After all Baxter
had helped disguise Enron�s losses to keep the stock price high and had
personally sold 577,436 shares of Enron Stock for $35.2 million. It is likely
there was a lot he could have said about a lot of things had he lived to face
Lay, facing bankruptcy and sentencing most likely for 20
years, posed the same threat conceivably to those in high political places
involved with the Enron debacle. In a separate, non-jury bank fraud trail
regarding Lay�s personal banking, US District Judge Sim Lake found the Enron
founder guilty of both bank fraud and false statements to banks. Judge Lake had
held back his verdict in Lay�s bank fraud case until the Lay-Skilling jury
presented its verdict.
Also, between these two tales of death, on January 14, 2004,
Andrew Fastow, who designed the off-the-books deals that drowned Enron, in a
deal with federal prosecutors, pleaded guilty to wire and securities fraud and
his wife, Lea, to filing a false joint tax return in 2000. Fastow agreed, too,
to help them build a case against the corner office executives, former chairman
Ken Lay (affectionately called �Kenny Boy� by President Bush, now a mere
acquaintance among many) and CEO Jeffrey Skilling, the heavy left standing.
In fact, 10 years in prison for Fastow might be the safest
place to be, although one never knows.
And as Skilling awaits sentencing, no exoneration is
apparent. At 52, he was also convicted of conspiracy to commit securities and
wire fraud after three months of testimony from 54 witnesses, and six days of
jury deliberation in the fraud/conspiracy trial. If I were him, I�d keep my
back to the wall, hire a body guard and a wine taster, at least until
As the Washington Post�s Mike Allen reported on August 26,
2003, in the GAO cited
Corporate Shaping of Energy Plan (read Enron and others). �The
General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said in the report
that Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham privately discussed the formulation of
Bush's policy �with chief executive officers of petroleum, electricity,
nuclear, coal, chemical and natural gas companies, among others.�
�An energy task
force, led by Vice President Cheney, relied for outside advice primarily on �petroleum,
coal, nuclear, natural gas, electricity industry representatives and
lobbyists,� while seeking limited input from academic experts,
environmentalists and policy groups, the GAO said.
�The task force was
one of Bush's highest priorities after his inauguration and was launched on his
10th day in office. None of the group's meetings was open to the public, and
participants told GAO investigators they �could not recollect whether official
rosters or minutes were kept,� the report said . . .
previously disclosed meetings were private sessions for Kenneth L. Lay, then
the chairman of Enron Corp., the Texas energy trading company that collapsed in
the nation's largest accounting scandal. Lay was given a 30-minute meeting with
Cheney and a conference with a top aide for the task force.�
What exactly went on, was promised, and decided remains
unknown. �Of the 77 pages Cheney�s office provided the GAO, two-thirds
contained no cost information and the remaining third included �miscellaneous
information of little or no usefulness . . . �� And the VP�s office said that
was it for information.
Ticking in the Silence?
As Ron Callari wrote
in the Albion Monitor on February 22, 2002, �Could the Big Secret be
that the highest levels of the Bush administration knew during the summer of
2001 that the largest bankruptcy in history was imminent? Or was it that Enron
and the White House were working closely with the Taliban -- including Osama
bin Laden -- up to weeks before the Sept. 11 attack? Was a deal in Afghanistan
part of a desperate last-ditch 'end run' to bail out Enron? Here's a tip for
congressional investigators and federal prosecutors: Start by looking at the
India deal. Closely.
�Enron had a $3 billion investment
in the Dabhol power plant, near Bombay on India's west coast. The project began
in 1992, and the liquefied natural gas-powered plant was supposed to supply energy-hungry
India with about one-fifth of its energy needs by 1997. It was one of Enron's
largest development projects ever (and the single largest direct foreign
investment in India's history). The company owned 65 percent of Dabhol; the
other partners were Bechtel, General Electric and State Electricity Board.
�The fly in the ointment, however was that the Indian
consumers could not afford the cost of the electricity that was to be produced.
The World Bank had warned at the beginning that the energy produced by the
plant would be too costly, and Enron proved them right. Power from the plant
was 700 percent higher than electricity from other sources.� Sounds like
California in 2000-01, when Enron used various trading schemes to drive up
prices while squeezing supplies.
�Enron had promised India that the Dabhol power would be
affordable once the next phase of the project was completed. But to cut
expenses, Enron had to find cheap gas to fuel it. They started burning naphtha,
with plans that they would retrofit the plant to gas once it was available.
�Originally, Enron was planning to get the liquefied natural
gas (LNG) from Qatar, where Enron had a joint venture with the state-owned
Qatar Gas and Pipeline Company. In fact, the Qatar project was one of the reasons
why Enron selected India to set up Dabhol: it had to ensure that its Qatar gas
did not remain unsold. In April 1999, however, the project was cancelled
because of the global oil and gas glut. With Qatar gone, Enron was back to
square one in trying to locate an inexpensive LNG supply source.� And so on and
What�s Up, Doc?
the sun sets on Enron�s saga, its shell games, corrupt executives, its wheels
and deals, its on and off book companies, the questions still remain, including
what will happen with Lay gone. And many of the answers still rest in the White
House, recipient of mucho Enron donation dineros, including GHW Bush as well as
Junior. It will be interesting to see who goes down next of natural or
unnatural causes. And what the coroners have to say about it all, if anything.
The real sadness,
though, is not that several ruthless executives lost their assets and
life-styles, and one his life, but that Enron�s bankruptcy cost thousands of
workers their jobs and confirmed our worst suspicions about stock market
corruption, and finally forced lawmakers to come up with the toughest
regulations for corporate practices in years. Frankly, I see them as drops in
the bucket of corruption, which includes not only that of corporations, but the
government itself, partners in crime with the best of the corporatos, including
the deadly military-industrial complex and their wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Somehow all that cumulative blood and guts makes Skilling look like a small
potato, albeit hanging in the wind on a string.
Mazza is a freelance writer living in New York City. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.