Former Enron Corp. President Jeffrey Skilling says he contemplated suicide after his company crumbled and authorities began to ratchet up legal pressure on him.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that life is better than the alternative, which was not a conclusion that was real clear to me for a period of time,” Skilling told The Wall Street Journal in an interview published in Saturday editions.
Skilling, 52, said he sought psychiatric help but was only able to emerge from a deep, two-year malaise after his 2004 indictment in which he was charged with conspiracy, fraud and insider trading, among other counts.
“The indictment, in a lot of ways, that was the turning point,” Skilling told the newspaper. “That’s when I started climbing back.”
During those couple of years of depression, Skilling said he turned into a recluse, retreating to his mansion in an upscale part of Houston, where he lingered in bed and obsessively followed coverage of the scandal.
In the interview, Skilling insisted he was innocent despite a jury convicting him on 19 counts.
Skilling and Enron founder Kenneth Lay were convicted in May of lying to investors and employees about Enron’s health before the company collapsed into bankruptcy protection in December 2001.
The collapse obliterated more than $60 billion in market value, almost $2.1 billion in pension plans and, initially, 5,600 jobs.
Court observers said the two disgraced corporate chiefs face prison sentences ranging from less than a decade to more than 30 years. Both also are likely to face the possibility of millions of dollars in fines.
Skilling and Lay have had their sentencing dates pushed back six weeks to Oct. 23. U.S. District Judge Sim Lake on Friday granted a request from defense attorneys for more time to prepare their arguments before sentencing.
Skilling says that he stupidly helped convict himself by telling federal authorities — whom he described as the “Gestapo” — too much.
“I was the best source of information that the government had,” he said. “Absolutely.”
Skilling also said he endured two weeks in the Utah wilderness, hiking 30 miles a day, to prepare for the exhausting trial. During that time, he ate caterpillars and worms.
Skilling realizes he’ll likely get a long prison term when he’s sentenced but believes he can cope with life behind bars. He told the newspaper he has an incentive to survive.
“At some point, people will ask what really happened (at Enron),” he said. “It would be good if they had someone there who could tell them.”