Soul-selling on a Massive Scale

Since the Enron Corporation's spectacular scandal ushered in an era of white—collar perp walks and investor outrage, many people may have forgotten that the last chapter is still to be written. On January 17, 2005, Enron founder Kenneth Lay, his CEO successor Jeffrey Skilling, and the company's former top accountant, Richard Causey, will finally go to trial more than four years after the company crumbled, leaving the trio to face a storm cloud of alleged crimes.

Because of the size of the company and the complexity of the case, we're told that the government needed time to get their facts in order. If you are among the rarified few who still cling tenaciously to the notion that the laws in our land are applied equally to everyone, Enron's example of capitalistic arrogance should disabuse you of such infantile fantasies.

With several mountains of evidence piling up from one continent to another, and thousands of people suffering from the aftershock of perhaps the most damaging bankruptcy in history, the money—grabbers at the top of the Ponzi scheme pyramid are greasing the palms of high profile attorneys in order to zigzag their way through a legal system designed to exculpate the wealthy from any and all forms of egregious behavior. The paradox we face is the constant illusion of equality amidst the overwhelming attestation of injustice.

Enron, its greedy malevolence notwithstanding, is merely an example of a culture built on cash and schooled in the science of cupidity. When poor or middle class citizens break the law they slide unceremoniously down the merciless chute to the slammer. The Kenneth Lays of the world erect a barrier of greenbacks to run interference for them and keep the gendarmes at bay.

One need only look at the system of bail to be convinced that money talks louder than righteousness. Two people commit the same crime. One can afford to put up a hundred gees for bail, so he goes home to his family while awaiting trial. The other, less well heeled but no less deserving of temporary freedom, sits in a cage until his day in court. Perhaps his biggest offense is that he didn't manage to accumulate enough of the long green to satisfy the requirements of a retail—minded constabulary. According to this philosophy, money buys freedom in the same way it buys a Porsche or a hotel on the boardwalk. To use another Monopoly reference, a fat checkbook equals a get out of jail card. Even the most envious member of the bourgeoisie can understand his limited ability to possess the material excesses available to his affluent counterparts. The guy with a Chevrolet budget shouldn't expect to own a Ferrari. However, when criminal behavior is screened through a monetary filter, providing liberty to some and incarceration to others, we need to rethink the pledge that ends with: 'indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.' Supposedly, the theory of bail is that if someone puts up a wad of dough, it guarantees his or her appearance at trial.

The poor chump who can't afford the tariff is destined for a striped wardrobe and an eight by ten pen. Skilling and Causey face more than 30 counts of fraud, conspiracy and insider trading charges for alleged involvement in various schemes to doctor Enron's books. However, the epic Enron battle goes far beyond basic book tampering or robbing the company till. The government alleges the two men lied to investors, signed fraudulent regulatory filings and knew of sophisticated off—the—books structures that hid debt and inflated profits in an overall effort to prop up a wobbly company's facade of success. The narrower conspiracy and fraud case against Lay alleges he took over the ruse when Skilling abruptly resigned less than four months before Enron went into bankruptcy in December 2001.

In addition, Lay is charged with lying to banks about his intention to use loans to buy Enron stock on margin. Meanwhile, the star witness for the government is Andrew Fastow, the former finance chief who made a plea bargain to get himself a mere 10 year sentence in exchange for providing testimony against his former bosses. Now it remains to be seen what the bosses get. Although it will be small comfort to the thousands of stockholders who lost their life savings, a long stretch in the hoosegow could be a warning to other rapacious entrepreneurs who might want to sell their souls for the almighty buck.

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the excutive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas. BobWeir777@aol.com

Since the Enron Corporation's spectacular scandal ushered in an era of white—collar perp walks and investor outrage, many people may have forgotten that the last chapter is still to be written. On January 17, 2005, Enron founder Kenneth Lay, his CEO successor Jeffrey Skilling, and the company's former top accountant, Richard Causey, will finally go to trial more than four years after the company crumbled, leaving the trio to face a storm cloud of alleged crimes.

Because of the size of the company and the complexity of the case, we're told that the government needed time to get their facts in order. If you are among the rarified few who still cling tenaciously to the notion that the laws in our land are applied equally to everyone, Enron's example of capitalistic arrogance should disabuse you of such infantile fantasies.

With several mountains of evidence piling up from one continent to another, and thousands of people suffering from the aftershock of perhaps the most damaging bankruptcy in history, the money—grabbers at the top of the Ponzi scheme pyramid are greasing the palms of high profile attorneys in order to zigzag their way through a legal system designed to exculpate the wealthy from any and all forms of egregious behavior. The paradox we face is the constant illusion of equality amidst the overwhelming attestation of injustice.

Enron, its greedy malevolence notwithstanding, is merely an example of a culture built on cash and schooled in the science of cupidity. When poor or middle class citizens break the law they slide unceremoniously down the merciless chute to the slammer. The Kenneth Lays of the world erect a barrier of greenbacks to run interference for them and keep the gendarmes at bay.

One need only look at the system of bail to be convinced that money talks louder than righteousness. Two people commit the same crime. One can afford to put up a hundred gees for bail, so he goes home to his family while awaiting trial. The other, less well heeled but no less deserving of temporary freedom, sits in a cage until his day in court. Perhaps his biggest offense is that he didn't manage to accumulate enough of the long green to satisfy the requirements of a retail—minded constabulary. According to this philosophy, money buys freedom in the same way it buys a Porsche or a hotel on the boardwalk. To use another Monopoly reference, a fat checkbook equals a get out of jail card. Even the most envious member of the bourgeoisie can understand his limited ability to possess the material excesses available to his affluent counterparts. The guy with a Chevrolet budget shouldn't expect to own a Ferrari. However, when criminal behavior is screened through a monetary filter, providing liberty to some and incarceration to others, we need to rethink the pledge that ends with: 'indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.' Supposedly, the theory of bail is that if someone puts up a wad of dough, it guarantees his or her appearance at trial.

The poor chump who can't afford the tariff is destined for a striped wardrobe and an eight by ten pen. Skilling and Causey face more than 30 counts of fraud, conspiracy and insider trading charges for alleged involvement in various schemes to doctor Enron's books. However, the epic Enron battle goes far beyond basic book tampering or robbing the company till. The government alleges the two men lied to investors, signed fraudulent regulatory filings and knew of sophisticated off—the—books structures that hid debt and inflated profits in an overall effort to prop up a wobbly company's facade of success. The narrower conspiracy and fraud case against Lay alleges he took over the ruse when Skilling abruptly resigned less than four months before Enron went into bankruptcy in December 2001.

In addition, Lay is charged with lying to banks about his intention to use loans to buy Enron stock on margin. Meanwhile, the star witness for the government is Andrew Fastow, the former finance chief who made a plea bargain to get himself a mere 10 year sentence in exchange for providing testimony against his former bosses. Now it remains to be seen what the bosses get. Although it will be small comfort to the thousands of stockholders who lost their life savings, a long stretch in the hoosegow could be a warning to other rapacious entrepreneurs who might want to sell their souls for the almighty buck.

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the excutive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas. BobWeir777@aol.com