The indictment was delivered by prosecutors to a federal magistrate, and is expected to be unsealed today, when the specific charges will become known.
In charging Mr. Lay, the Justice Department’s Enron Task Force has reached the top of the corporate hierarchy at the company, which has been under broad investigation since it was forced into bankruptcy in December 2001, costing investors tens of billions of dollars and putting thousands of employees out of work. So far, criminal charges have been filed against some 30 people, including former executives and advisers who have been charged with aiding Enron in its deceit.
Throughout the inquiry, separate teams of prosecutors have pored over Mr. Lay’s finances and actions throughout the final years of Enron, seeking to determine what role he may have played in the events that led to its downfall. The Enron investigations have picked apart an array of complex and fraudulent financial machinations at the company, but since last fall prosecutors investigating Mr. Lay have focused instead on a narrow series of his actions and statements in the few months before the company collapsed.
The majority of the charges against Mr. Lay are said to center on a series of what the government believes are false statements he made to investors, employees and accountants that painted a positive picture of the company’s finances at a time when he was selling Enron stock. Mr. Lay is also expected to face civil charges for securities law violations brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which has been conducting its own inquiry.
Andrew Weissmann, the head of the Enron Task Force, declined to comment, as did Bruce Collins, a lawyer for Mr. Lay.
In a statement yesterday, Mr. Lay said he had been advised of the indictment, and planned to surrender himself to federal law enforcement authorities this morning. In the statement, he called the indictment “unjustified.”