Lawyers representing two former executives of the Cendant Corporation who are accused of defrauding investors and lying to regulators in a fraud that spanned a decade portrayed their clients in opening statements Monday as anything but fat cats living lavishly off the spoils of a corporate scandal.

But prosecutors said the two Cendant executives conspired to deceive investors, inflate company earnings and put money into their own pockets.

Walter A. Forbes, Cendant’s former chairman, and E. Kirk Shelton, the former vice chairman, are charged with securities fraud, conspiracy and lying to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mr. Forbes is also accused of insider trading for selling $11 million in company stock before the price plunged. Both have pleaded not guilty.

The case has taken six years to come to trial, and corporate fraud cases have inspired public outrage and led to numerous convictions in the meantime.

That point was not lost on the defense lawyers.

Mr. Forbes and Mr. Shelton are not in the same category as executives from Enron and Tyco, their lawyers said in Federal District Court here. Thomas P. Puccio, Mr. Shelton’s lawyer, told the jury that his client had worked his way through prestigious institutions including Harvard Business School, doing “menial jobs, difficult jobs.”

Mr. Forbes, the former chairman, was an “idea man” who figured out as far back as the 1970’s that people would one day buy products on computers, his lawyer, Brendan V. Sullivan Jr., said.

He was also good to his employees, Mr. Sullivan added, saying, “Walter Forbes was thought of as a good guy to work for, unlike a lot of the C.E.O.’s you hear about today.”

Cendant was formed in 1997 by a merger of two companies – CUC International, a company based in Stamford, Conn., that sold shopping-club memberships, and HFS, a hotel, car rental and real estate company.

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