Legal experts are predicting the toughest sentences permitted when Enron felons Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay are sentenced. 2

Legal experts are predicting the toughest sentences permitted when Enron felons Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay are sentenced.

Jeffrey Skilling was once a hard-charging poster boy for energy deregulation. Kenneth Lay was once a big political fund-raiser for George W. Bush.

Now both of the former Enron executives are likely to spend a big chunk – if not all – of the rest of their lives behind bars. Skilling and Lay were found guilty Thursday of conspiracy and fraud in one of the most infamous corporate crime trials of the new century.

Jeffrey Skilling and his attorney spoke to reporters after the former Enron CEO was found guilty of conspiracy and fraud. (May 25)

“Nine out of 10 times appeals hinge on argument that the judge didn’t accurately describe the law to jurors,” said Donald Langevoort, Thomas Aquinas Reynolds Professor of Law at Georgetown Law School. “Eight out of 10 times the argument fails.”

“People in Houston are still very engaged,” said Langevoort. “If that crowd is in the courtroom or on the courthouse steps – literally or figuratively – the judge will be aware of that at sentencing time. I have no doubt 20 to 30 years is well within the realm of possibility.”

Nicholas Theodorou, a former federal prosecutor and defense lawyer for the firm Foley Hoag LLP in Boston, said, “Certainly we’re looking at double-digit sentences for Lay and Skilling.”

He noted that Adelphia’s John Rigas got 15 years and ex-WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers 25 for their roles in the corporate frauds at those companies. And Judge Sim Lake has already convicted Lay on bank fraud in another Enron case, he added.

Judge Lake conducted the main Enron trial well and appeared to leave little room for error, legal experts said.

“This judge was very meticulous in the way he let the case be presented by both sides,” said Roma Theus, who focuses on corporate integrity and white-collar crime at the Defense Research Institute, a national organization for defense lawyers. “The likelihood of serious error in how the case was presented is not great. Error must be so significant it taints the entire trial.”

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