updated 6/26/2006 3:19:25 PM ET 2006-06-26T19:19:25

Like Enron Corp. founder Kenneth Lay and other colleagues, Larry Lawyer emerged from the company’s sprawling scandal a convicted felon.

But the former low-level Enron finance executive who pocketed tens of thousands of dollars in kickbacks won’t see a prison cell.

Lawyer was sentenced Monday to two years’ probation in what could end up being the lightest punishment faced by Enron felons, including Lay and former Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling.

Lawyer faced up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for filing a false tax return in 2000 that didn’t note his kickbacks as income.

“This was a tax case and not an Enron fraud case,” his attorney, Robert Sussman, said.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt noted that Lawyer was a minor player caught up on the fringes of fraud. The judge did not assess a fine because Lawyer gave the amount he received in kickbacks — nearly $79,500 — to a fund for unemployed former Enron workers.

“Mr. Sussman said you will have this thing to live with for the rest of your life, but it’s not something you can’t bear,” Hoyt said.

Federal prosecutor Kathryn Ruemmler, who was on the team that won convictions against Lay and Skilling last month, did not oppose probation for Lawyer.

Last month Lay and Skilling were convicted of fraud, conspiracy and other charges for lying to investors and employees about Enron’s health in the months before it collapsed. Both face 20 years or more in prison, aim to appeal, and are slated to be sentenced Oct. 23.

Enron plummeted into bankruptcy protection amid revelations of hidden debt and inflated profits that sent investors fleeing and siphoned Wall Street’s longtime adoration of the company. More than $60 billion in market value and thousands of jobs evaporated in the fall.

Lawyer, who cut a plea deal in November 2002, never testified in any Enron court cases.

He admitted in November 2002 that he took money for helping devise a 1997 scheme to sell Enron’s wind farms to a shell partnership set up by former Enron Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow and his one-time top lieutenant, Michael Kopper.

Fastow, Kopper and other Enron felons who pleaded guilty to more serious crimes face stiffer penalties.

Fastow, who engineered financial schemes that helped fuel Enron’s implosion, pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy in January 2004 and agreed up front to serve the maximum penalty of a decade in prison. He is slated to be sentenced Aug. 28.

Kopper pleaded guilty in August 2002 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to conduct transactions in property derived from a crime. He faces up to 15 years in prison and is slated to be sentenced in September.

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