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‘NatWest 3’ sentenced to 37 months in jail

Three former British bankers who pleaded guilty for their roles in a fraudulent scheme with former Enron CFO were each sentenced Friday to three years and one month in prison.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Three former British bankers who pleaded guilty for their roles in a fraudulent scheme with former Enron Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow were each sentenced Friday to three years and one month in prison.

The 37-month sentences for David Bermingham, Giles Darby and Gary Mulgrew matched federal prosecutors' recommendation to U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein Jr.

In November, the three defendants each pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud as part of a plea agreement after initially saying they did not collude with Fastow in a secret financial scam in 2000 to enrich themselves at their employer's expense.

Enron, once the nation's seventh-largest company, crumbled into bankruptcy in December 2001 after years of accounting tricks could no longer hide billions in debt or make failing ventures appear profitable. The collapse wiped out thousands of jobs, more than $60 billion in market value and more than $2 billion in pension plans.

During Friday's hearing, all three onetime bankers apologized to friends and family for their actions.

"I believe I exercised a lack of integrity in my decisions," Mulgrew said. "I'd like to apologize to the people hurt by my decisions."

They had faced up to five years and a $250,000 fine, but the fine was waived because in the plea deal all three had agreed to pay their former employer more than $13 million.

All three will remain free on bond until they report to prison. The reporting date and prison location have not been set yet.

"They all want to put this behind them," said Dick DeGuerin, an attorney for Darby. "The Andy Fastow culture of greed at Enron corrupted everybody and everything that came into contact with it. These guys were as much victims as anybody."

The three defendants are hoping they can serve part of their sentences in Britain.

Their attorneys on Friday asked that they be ordered to a prison in Pennsylvania, where they plan to apply for a program that allows sentences to be served out overseas. Personnel at the Pennsylvania facility have experience in the international prisoner program, the attorneys said.

The three former executives at Greenwich NatWest, a unit of Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC, became well known in Britain during extradition proceedings that lasted two years. They were dubbed the "NatWest Three." In the United States, their case is a loose end from Enron's collapse.

Greenwich NatWest had invested in a subsidiary of an Enron partnership controlled by Fastow, the architect of a myriad of fraudulent Enron schemes that helped fuel its spiral into bankruptcy proceedings.

In early 2000, the bank had valued its interest in the subsidiary at zero, but the three British bankers knew it actually had significant value.

A company under the control of Michael Kopper, Fastow's former top aide, purchased the bank's interest in the subsidiary for $1 million.

The bankers, who came to Houston, paid Kopper $250,000 for an interest in this company. Fastow falsely represented to Enron that the energy company would pay $20 million to Greenwich NatWest for its shares of the subsidiary.

But the $20 million actually went to the British bankers, Fastow and others. The bankers got $7.3 million while Fastow, Kopper and others skimmed about $12.3 million, according to the plea deal.

For their roles in Enron's collapse, Fastow is serving a six-year sentence while Kopper was given a three-year, one-month sentence.

Enron founder Kenneth Lay and former chief executive Jeffrey Skilling were convicted in 2006 for their roles in the company's collapse. Skilling is serving a sentence of more than 24 years. Lay's convictions for conspiracy, fraud and other charges were wiped out after he died of heart disease in 2006.