Ken Lay Dies

It's a twist no one expected: the sudden death of Enron founder Ken Lay. The pastor of his Houston church says Lay's heart "simply gave out." Houston Public Radio's Ed Mayberry reports.

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Ken Lay, convicted of helping perpetuate one of the biggest business frauds in U.S. history, died of an apparent heart attack in Aspen, Colorado. He was 64.

Lay took Enron from a conservative natural gas pipeline company to an energy and trading giant, with more than $100 billion in annual revenue. But the company imploded after it became clear Enron's finances were built on fraudulent partnerships and schemes. Lay was convicted on May 26th, along with Enron's former CEO Jeff Skilling, of defrauding investors and workers.

"Certainly we're surprised, I think probably even more appropriately to say we're shocked. I firmly believe I'm innocent of the charges against me. Certainly this was not the outcome we expected. As I have said from day one, I still firmly believe that as of this day."

Lay was also convicted in a separate trial of bank fraud and making false statements to banks, and faced the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison. Lay had been scheduled to be sentenced in October and had been preparing his appeal. Lay told the Houston Forum on December 13th, 2005 that he would carry the burden of Enron's collapse to his grave.

"Tragically, large numbers of employees saw their dreams evaporate--dreams about retirement, a child's education, a new home, keeping one's home, caring for parents. The negative effects of bankruptcy and the scandal that the Enron employees and retirees have had to endure is the most devastating and heartbreaking tragedy of my life and will assuredly continue to haunt me until my death."

Author Robert Bryce wrote about Enron's collapse in the book Pipedream.

"Take whatever good qualities Lay had, and you know, he was clearly, he was a charitable man, you know, he was focused on building up Houston and the Houston community. But at the same time, his fatal flaw was clearly, you know, this overbearing pride, and at Enron that was really his defining characteristic, that he refused to believe that anything was wrong at the company when it was clearly failing. And I think that that, perhaps more than anything, is always going to be the thing that he is going to be remembered for."

Prosecutors are not talking about what'll become of efforts to reclaim money the government says Lay pocketed. Just last week, federal prosecutors filed motions to get Lay and Skilling to pay the government $183 million it says were ill-gotten gains from the fraud they were found guilty of committing at Enron.

Ed Mayberry, Houston Public Radio News.

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