A jury convicted a former Enron Corp. executive and four ex-Merrill Lynch & Co. officials in the first criminal prosecution arising from the accounting fraud that led to the energy trader’s collapse.
The six-week trial in Houston federal court stemmed from Enron’s 1999 sale to Merrill of a $7 million stake in three energy-generating barges. Prosecutors said that the deal was a disguised loan because Enron promised to pay Merrill back, and that the energy trader committed fraud when it booked the loan as a $12 million profit so it could meet earnings estimates.
The trial was “a milestone in bringing both an Enron executive and Merrill Lynch executives who aided and abetted the fraud at Enron to justice,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney General Christopher Wray in a statement.
The verdicts in the case, the first chance prosecutors had to try out evidence and strategies that may be used in later Enron prosecutions, are a vote of confidence for the government’s presentation of what it described as a microcosm of the larger Enron frauds. The jury deliberated for four days. On March 1, jury selection begins in the Enron Broadband conspiracy trial, which will be followed by the fraud prosecutions of ex-Enron chief executives Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay.
Convicted of one count of conspiracy and two counts of wire fraud were former Merrill investment banking chief Daniel Bayly, 57; former Enron finance executive Dan Boyle, 48; former Merrill strategic financial group chief James Brown, 52; former Merrill managing director Robert Furst, 43; and former Merrill vice president William Fuhs, 36.
Brown was also convicted of two counts of making false statements, and Boyle was convicted of one count of making a false statement.
Former Enron accounting executive Sheila Kahanek, 38, was acquitted of all charges.
The conspiracy and wire fraud counts each carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison. The false statement counts each carry a potential 10-year prison sentence.
Fuhs, who also faced two counts of making false statements, had those counts severed and will be tried on them separately.