updated 12/20/2004 4:34:05 PM ET 2004-12-20T21:34:05

The federal fraud trial of former Westar Energy Inc. chief executive David Wittig and his top deputy ended Monday in a mistrial after jurors could not reach a verdict on more than half of the charges.

U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson decided not to hear the jury's verdict on the remaining charges, all of which related to money laundering. The jury deliberated for more than six days after a trial that lasted more than seven weeks.

The jury deadlocked on a single charge of conspiracy, and several counts of wire fraud and circumventing internal accounting controls. Robinson had directed the jury to resume deliberations on Friday after they initially reported they could not reach a verdict on those counts.

Wittig, of Topeka, and former Westar executive vice president Douglas T. Lake, of New Canaan, Conn., each faced a total of 40 counts related to allegations they tried to loot the largest electric utility in Kansas. The pair left Westar late in 2002; Wittig resigned, and Westar's directors placed Lake on an indefinite and unpaid leave.

Because the court did not record a verdict, prosecutors can retry the case.

Both Wittig's attorney, Adam Hoffinger, and Edward Little, the lead attorney for Lake's defense team, declined to comment. Messages left with Jim Cross, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Kansas, were not immediately returned.

If convicted, prosecutors intended to force Wittig and Lake to give up all assets and salary received during their time at Westar. Prosecutors estimated totals of $27.9 million for Wittig and $9.4 million for Lake.

The two men were accused of using company planes for personal travel; pushing the company to invest in or buy companies in which they had personal interests; manipulating a proposed merger of the utility to bring themselves millions of dollars; abusing an executive relocation program; and conferring with Westar's outside legal counsel to remove members of the board critical of their compensation.

The trial was often characterized by friction between Robinson and defense attorneys, who sometimes accused the judge of favoring the prosecution in her rulings. At several points, all of them out of the sight of jurors, she angrily lectured the attorneys for showing what she felt was unprofessional conduct, such as rolling their eyes or snickering during witness testimony. A day before closing statements, Robinson barred one of Lake's attorneys from the courtroom.

Wittig, a Kansas native and former investment banker at Salomon Brothers in New York, came to the utility 1995, where he helped devise the company's strategy. He became president, chief executive and board chairman in 1998, positions he held until he was indicted in a separate bank fraud case.

Lake, an investment banker at Bear Stearns in New York, came to the company in 1998 to fill Wittig's old position as chief of strategic planning.

The trial came a year and a half after another federal jury convicted Wittig of the bank fraud charges, which were not directly related to Westar.

Prosecutors said Wittig and Clinton Odell Weidner, a Topeka banker, hid from bank officials and federal regulators a $1.5 million loan Wittig made to the Weidner. They argued Wittig made the loan in return for an agreement that Weidner's bank would provide $20 million in financing so Westar directors and executives could buy stock in a proposed spin-off.

Wittig was sentenced to more than four years in prison, but is free while the verdict in under appeal. Weidner was sentenced to six and a half years in prison.

Westar Energy spokeswoman Karla Olsen said Monday's decision will not affect the company. "We will await the decision of the U.S. Attorney's office whether there will be a new trial. We will continue to monitor the case," Olsen said.

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