Jeffrey Skilling, the convicted former Enron Corp. chief executive officer, may get out of prison in as little as four years if a judge approves a deal with prosecutors over objections by victims of one of the biggest corporate frauds in U.S. history.
In exchange for getting as many as 10 years cut from his 24-year sentence, Skilling will drop his bid for a new trial and end litigation over his conviction. A jury found he spearheaded a fraud of as much as $40 billion that destroyed the world’s largest energy trader in 2001.
U.S. District Judge Sim Lake in Houston said he would take into consideration comments by ex-Enron employees, investors and other victims before accepting or rejecting the deal.
A sentencing agreement submitted yesterday to Lake by prosecutors and Skilling’s lawyers calls for the former executive to give up all claims to $40 million in forfeited assets and be resentenced to 14 to 17 years in prison, according to a filing in federal court in Houston. The bulk of the reduction comes from an appellate ruling that takes nine years off because sentencing guidelines were improperly applied by Lake the first time.
Lake held a series of closed-doors status conferences in the case on May 2, May 3, and again yesterday.
“It seems unlikely that the government and Skilling’s lawyers would’ve presented a deal to the judge without confidence it would be approved,” David Berg, a Houston trial lawyer familiar with the Enron prosecutions and Lake, said in a phone interview. “That’s what three days of closed-door hearings have been about. I’m unaware of any criminal case where a deal was reached of this magnitude -- 14 years is a lot of time -- and the judge rejected it.”
Skilling, 59, has served more than six years of his 2006 sentence for fraud, conspiracy and insider trading. Given the nine years lopped off by the 2011 appellate ruling, and with the potential benefit of two more years off for good behavior and another year off for participation in a drug treatment program, Skilling could be released in 2017 or early 2018, according to his lawyer and the agreement.
“The proposed agreement will bring certainty and finality to a long painful process, although the recommended sentence for Jeff would still be more than double that of any other Enron defendant, all of whom have long been out of prison,” his lawyer, Daniel Petrocelli, said in a phone interview. “Jeff will at least get the chance to get back a meaningful part of his life.”