Tuesday PM October 24th, 2006

Sherron Watkins says Skilling sentence feels like closure, despite defiance...Government files civil suit against Ken Lay's estate...Houston janitors continue strike...

In sentencing former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling to 24 years and four months in prison, U.S. District Judge Sim Lake on Monday said the former CEO had imposed on hundreds--if not thousands--a life sentence of poverty. Judge Lake also denied Skilling's request for bond and ordered him to home confinement, wearing an ankle monitor. No word yet on when Skilling must report to prison. Skilling is appealing his May conviction on 19 counts of fraud, conspiracy, insider trading and lying to auditors. Sherron Watkins, who wrote the famous memo to Ken Lay warning of accounting irregularities, talked with Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell about Skilling's sentence.

"It certainly feels like closure of the Enron saga. Skilling was the chief operating officer and the CEO when most of the financial manipulations occurred. He is now sentenced to 24 years in a federal prison. It feels like closure. I just wish he would at least take some responsibility for Enron's failures. Jim Bell: He's defiant to the end. I mean, standing there telling the TV cameras and the judge that he's innocent. Well, I have heard an interesting statistic that over 50 percent of white collar criminals go to prison able to pass a lie detector test that they did nothing wrong. There's something about white collar crime. It's very dependant upon the individual criminal convincing himself that he's actually not breaking the law."

Skilling's prison sentence is the longest received by any Enron defendant. Co-defendant, Enron founder Ken Lay, died of heart disease in July. Former chief financial officer Andy Fastow was given a six-year term after cooperating with prosecutors and helping them secure Skilling's conviction. The Enron collapse led to the loss of thousands of jobs, more than $60 billion in Enron stock and more than $2 billion in employee pension plans.

The government has filed a civil suit against the late Ken Lay's estate, seeking control of $12.7 million in assets, including his $2.5 million River Oaks condominium on the 33rd floor of the Huntingdon on Kirby. This follows the decision last week by U.S. District Judge Sim Lake to vacate Lay's fraud and conspiracy convictions because of his death before exhausting appeals. The government contends Lay made $99 million from criminal activity.

Houston janitors continue their strike, which began Monday. The Service Employees International Union is demanding that the city's five major commercial cleaning companies return to contract negotiations that broke down last week. The union represents 5,300 janitors. It's seeking a raise to $8.50 an hour, more guaranteed work hours and health insurance. The cleaning companies say they're disappointed with the strike and that they can't afford the demands. Union spokeswoman Lynda Tran says about 500 janitors walked out from downtown office buildings to start the strike. The union plans to shift its strike targets day by day, the Houston Chronicle reports. A federal judge yesterday ordered the City of Houston not to enforce ordinances that require permits for sound amplification devices, parading through streets and gathering in public parks. The injunction enables strikers to demonstrate at times when they can have the biggest impact.

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