Enron founder Ken Lay and former CEO Jeffrey Skilling go to trial next week and U.S. prosecutors have a real challenge ahead trying this case.
The U.S. Government will pin much of their case against Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling on Enron financial statements and an alleged trail of lies. Bill Mateja is with the firm Fish & Richardson in Dallas, but formerly worked in the Department of Justice as senior counsel to the deputy attorney general, and served as point person for President Bush’s Corporate Fraud Task Force. He says the prosecution needs to avoid getting bogged down in the details.
“The key is to not get lost in the forest, because that’s what happened in the Broadband trial, is that they got into too much detail and too much of the minutiae. And really the struggle, and the way they’re going to win this case for the government is to make this very simple, not get lost in the forest and to just try to make it kind of very down to earth.”
In the case against five Enron Broadband division executives, the jury acquitted three of the defendents on some of the 164 charges against them and deadlocked on the rest, resulting in a mistrial. Mateja says the government needs to avoid that kind of confusion.
“They gotta get good experts that bring this down to very simple levels of understanding, and I think that it can be done. And I can’t tell you that I’m intimately familiar with all of the accounting issues that are at play here, but I mean, I’ve had lots of very difficult issues, we’ve brought experts in to try to educate the jury and I just know that it can be done.”
A lot of the case will hinge on accounting practices. Mateja says the prosecution will try to make the accounting principles look easy and straightforward but the defense will take the opposite approach.
“What I think their, their key defense is gonna be is that what Enron was doing was okay. And you know, not withstanding what the government says, really though it may have been aggressive accounting treatment, that it was appropriate and that it was legal.”
Prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Sim Lake they may take as long as nine weeks to present their case. After that the defense will present. The trial for Lay and Skilling could run between four and six months.