A former Enron Corp. executive’s dramatic account of a confrontation over an alleged sham sale of three barges to Merrill Lynch & Co. was never documented or reported to her superiors, she testified Wednesday.
But Amanda Colpean said she was ordered by a colleague to lie about the transaction and manipulate documents, so that the sale appeared to be legitimate – and Enron could satisfy its auditors. Ultimately, Colpean and 10 other Enron executives signed off on the paperwork.
Colpean was the first witness to testify in the conspiracy and fraud trial of four former Merrill executives and two former midlevel Enron executives accused of pushing through the deal in late December 1999.
Prosecutors say Enron wrongly booked a $12 million pretax profit from the deal because the energy company – specifically, former Enron finance chief Andrew Fastow – secretly promised that Merrill’s interest in the barges would be repurchased within six months. A Fastow-run partnership bought the interest in late June 2000.
The government contends Enron needed the deal to appear to have met earnings targets, and the Merrill defendants participated in hopes of garnering more banking business from the energy company.
The defendants contend Enron was never obligated to buy back Merrill’s interest in the barges and none of those on trial had final say on doing the deal.
In testimony Wednesday, Colpean said defendant Sheila Kahanek, a former in-house Enron accountant, came to her office and yelled at her for drafting a deal approval sheet that noted the buyback side deal. She said Kahanek ordered her to destroy all copies, because “putting certain information” in it would jeopardize the deal if the document was seen by outside auditors.
Colpean, who was above Kahanek in Enron’s corporate hierarchy, said she refused to change the proposed document. But she acknowledged she later signed a copy that “didn’t include all aspects of the deal” because it lacked language about a buyback.
She also acknowledged Wednesday she didn’t document the confrontation or tell her superiors about it.