Three British bankers who were extradited to Texas to face charges in the Enron scandal pleaded not guilty Friday, but a judge delayed a decision on setting bond that could allow them to return home to await trial.
U.S. Magistrate Stephen Smith said a decision on bond would be delayed until after a July 21 hearing for David Bermingham, Gary Mulgrew and Giles Darby.
All three are charged with seven counts of wire fraud for allegedly colluding with former Enron Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow in a secret financial scam in 2000 to enrich themselves at their employers’ expense. Their indictment alleges that they siphoned $7.3 million while Fastow and others skimmed $12.3 million from the scheme.
Smith set the trial date for Sept. 11. All three defendants will be out pending the July 21 bond hearing, Bermingham and Darby on a $100,000 bond, and Mulgrew on $20,000.
Dan Cogdell, Bermingham’s attorney and the only one from Houston on the defense team, will have responsibility for the three before the hearing. They must remain wherever Cogdell places them and may not roam the city. And they also must wear electronic monitoring devices. The three surrendered their passports to the court too, as is standard.
Prosecutor Leo Wise said he would approve an order for bond pending the September trial if the men agreed not only to stay in the U.S., but also to post substantial cash and equity in their homes in Britain, surrender their passports and wear an electronic monitoring device.
“Most essential is that these defendants reside in the United States,” he said, calling the bankers “a serious risk of flight.”
Reid Figel, Mulgrew’s attorney, responded that the men would agree to come to Houston monthly to check in with federal probation authorities, wear electronic monitoring devices in both countries and post all liquid assets for bond. Figel said the court should impose the least restrictive conditions to allow the bankers to prepare for trial.
The indictment claims they came to Houston in February 2000 to meet with Fastow and concoct the scheme. The three men each face a maximum of 35 years in prison if convicted of all charges.
The three former executives at Greenwich NatWest, a unit of Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC, became notorious in Britain and their case sparked a debate over the fairness of an extradition treaty between the U.S. and Britain.
The trio has fought extradition since their April 2004 arrest in London. Wise pointed to their efforts to fight extradition as evidence that they did not come to the United States willingly and said it increases their flight risk.
Cogdell responded that the fact that they availed themselves of extradition appeals “should not be a tattoo.”
Cogdell and lawyers for Darby and Mulgrew also argued that the men have families whom they need to care for and could not support them while living in the United States.
Both houses of the British Parliament mounted symbolic debates this week to protest Britain’s compliance with a 2003 extradition treaty that has not been ratified by the U.S. Senate. Several legislators lambasted Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government and the American failure to ratify the treaty.
Blair has repeatedly defended the agreement.
The bankers were charged in June 2002 in a sweeping probe that reached its pinnacle in May with the convictions of company founder Kenneth Lay and former CEO Jeffrey Skilling for fraud and conspiracy, for lying to investors and employees about the energy company’s financial health before it failed.
Lay died July 5 of heart disease. Skilling, who also was convicted of insider trading and lying to auditors, faces decades in prison and is to be sentenced Oct. 23.
The charges against the bankers alerted Fastow and his staff that they were prosecution targets by noting their involvement in the alleged scam. The ex-CFO pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy in January 2004.