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Skilling gets 24 years

And so the Enron saga more or less comes to a close, pending appeals and the ongoing civil suits.

Former Enron Corp. CEO Jeff Skilling took the blow of a 24-year prison sentence the same way he took a jury’s decision that he’s a felon: Dry-eyed and calm.

Standing alone before U.S. District Judge Sim Lake to make a statement at his sentencing hearing Monday, Skilling insisted before he learned what his punishment would be that he is remorseful about Enron’s 2001 demise and its devastating fallout to employees and investors.

“I will live those days and everything that happened subsequently for the rest of my life,” he said.

[…]

“All that being said, your honor, I am innocent of these charges. I am innocent of every one of these charges,” the 52-year-old former business titan said with a bit of defiance in a hearing that capped an era of fraud that prompted Congress to pass sweeping reforms and stiffen white collar penalties.

Unmoved, Lake imposed a prison term of 24 years and four months — the bottom of a possible range that stretched to 30 years and five months.

He will also fork over $45 million in restitution should he lose his appeal.

Skilling’s term is just a few months shy of the 25-year sentence former WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers began serving last month for orchestrating the $11 billion fraud that drove his company into bankruptcy.

“It’s difficult to understand how 24 years for a nonviolent crime can be the low end of anything,” said David Berg, a Houston civil litigator.

But others, including nine of the 16 jurors and alternates in Skilling’s trial who attended his sentencing, approved.

“Judge Lake knows the law. He stood firm where the sentence will be served and when lenience was allowed, he considered that,” said jury foreman Deb Smith.

Philip Hilder, a former federal prosecutor who represents several Enron defendants and witnesses, said Skilling’s punishment was fair.

“It’s not one that’s out of the ordinary,” he said.

Outside the courthouse, Skilling said with a shrug that he was disappointed, but called Lake a “fair guy” and said he would appeal.

“This is no act or anything. I believe that I’m innocent,” he said.

For better or worse, that’s the difference between what Skilling got and what Andy Fastow got. I have little sympathy for Skilling and believe he got a fair trial and an appropriate sentence, but the difference is striking. I’ll be thinking about it for awhile.

There are still Enron issues to be worked through: restitution for former employees, and more trials, sentencings, and lawsuits. But between the death of Ken Lay and the sentences meted out to Skilling and Fastow, it’s hard not to think of this as largely finished. Easy for me to say, I know.

If you’ve been following this at all, you’ll know that Loren Steffy approved of Skilling’s punishment, while Tom Kirkendall did not. What do you think?

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