The guilty plea of former Enron chief executive David Delainey may signal an aggressive new direction by the government in their criminal investigation of the massive group, which collapsed two years ago. The statement of facts in Delainey’s indictment combined with the charges show that Kenneth Lay, former Enron chairman and Jeffrey Skilling, former chief executive, are at higher risk than ever.

David W. Delainey, is the highest-ranking Enron official to admit participating in crimes and pleaded guilty yesterday to insider trading, admitting that he sold millions of dollars in company shares at a time he knew its financial performance was being manipulated improperly.

The complaints largely focus on more mundane aspects of business and accounting, like the valuation of assets and the use of reserves.

The Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this month brought a similar case against Wes Colwell, a former Enron accountant, but no criminal charges were filed. Mr. Delainey, the former chief of Enron’s wholesale and retail energy divisions, also settled a fraud case with the S.E.C. yesterday.

Under his settlement agreements, Mr. Delainey, a Canadian citizen, will pay about $8 million in penalties – $3.7 million in the civil case and $4.3 million in the criminal case. He also faces a maximum prison sentence of 10 years and an additional $1 million fine. As part of his deal, Mr. Delainey has agreed to cooperate in the continuing investigation.

Prosecutors heralded the deal. “Securing the cooperation of the C.E.O. of a major Enron business unit is an important step forward in the thorough and continuing investigation of this sophisticated corporate fraud,” Christopher A. Wray, the assistant attorney general who heads the Justice Department’s criminal division, said in a statement.

The prosecutors are contending that a series of actions taken by senior Enron executives were part of an overarching criminal scheme to manipulate Enron’s earnings so that the company could hit its profit goals.

The indictment says that Mr. Delainey participated only in aspects of the transactions in question but had knowledge of the full scope of the scheme. That, experts said, suggests that anyone with specific knowledge of the transactions who sold Enron shares could also be held accountable.

“This theory could sweep up a large number of former Enron executives and create a larger stable of potential cooperating witnesses for the government,” said Robert Mintz, a former prosecutor and partner at McCarter & English in Newark. But, Mr. Mintz added, unless prosecutors obtain evidence of specific efforts to hide important information about the transactions that the government contends were part of the scheme, trying a case with such a complex theory will be challenging.

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