Sherri Saunders got the call at her desk and squealed “Yes!” Brian Cruver turned on the television, saw news of the verdicts and kept on working.
After hearing Thursday that Enron Corp. founder Kenneth Lay and former Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling had just been convicted of conspiracy to commit securities and wire fraud, former employees’ reactions ranged from elation to satisfaction to indifference.
“Ken Lay has been coming out of the courthouse every day saying the case is in the hands of the jury, judge and God. To me, God has spoken to him with this verdict,” said Saunders, 59, who lost her job and $1 million in retirement savings when the high-profile energy trader went bankrupt in 2001. “I guess it gives me a little comfort, but it doesn’t put back my retirement money.”
Lay, convicted on all six counts — as well as four counts of bank fraud and making false statements to banks in a separate, non-jury trial related to his personal banking — now faces a maximum penalty of 165 years in federal prison. Skilling, convicted on 19 of the 28 counts, faces up to 185 years in federal prison.
The judge can order them to serve some or all of the counts concurrently, and the advisory sentencing guidelines would drop the penalty far below the maximum.
Saunders and Cruver were among some 4,000 employees who, the day after Enron filed for bankruptcy in December 2001, were told they no longer had jobs. They were given only 30 minutes to pack their belongings and leave the building in downtown Houston.
Cruver, a trader at Enron for just nine months, said he was indifferent upon hearing the verdicts because he has moved on. But he said he would have reacted strongly if the men had been acquitted.
“I was always satisfied with the punishment they were already getting, having their lives for decades tied up in courts and legal fees, but these verdicts make perfect sense,” said Cruver, 34, who now lives in Austin. “They’re getting what they deserve and what Enron employees wanted.”
Cruver wrote “Anatomy of Greed: The Unshredded Truth from an Enron Insider,” which was the basis for a CBS television movie about Enron. He then founded Giveline, an online retail company where a purchase generates a contribution to a charity — a venture he calls the “anti-Enron.”
Richard Evans, who worked on broadband development for Enron, said he had taken his layoff in stride and still felt lucky to have worked there.
He said justice was served but that the verdicts had no impact on him. He said for other former employees, “this is almost like the Astros winning the World Series” and that they were “just extremely elated.”
Saunders, now an executive secretary at a Houston hospital, said she hopes 52-year-old Skilling and 64-year-old Lay get stiff sentences because they have never taken responsibility or showed remorse.
“If Ken Lay gets 20 years, he’ll probably die in jail,” Saunders said. “So 20 years would be good.”