Lawyers for the wife of former Enron Corp. finance chief Andrew Fastow kept working Sunday on a plea deal that would clear the path for a separate agreement for him, possibly leading to more prosecutions of top executives of the collapsed energy giant.
“They are ongoing,” Mike DeGeurin, Lea Fastow’s lead lawyer, said Sunday about plea negotiations. He declined to elaborate.
Leslie Caldwell, head of the Justice Department’s Enron Task Force, and Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra didn’t return calls for comment Sunday.
Andrew Fastow is charged with 98 counts of fraud, money laundering, conspiracy, insider trading and others for allegedly running a web of partnerships and schemes designed to enrich himself as well as inflate Enron’s profits and hide company debt. His wife is charged with six counts of conspiracy and filing false tax forms for allegedly taking part in laundering money skimmed from the deals and failing to report the income to the government.
A proposed package plea deal for the Fastows hit a roadblock last week when the judge presiding over her case balked at being required up front to impose a five-month sentence. Instead, U.S. District Judge David Hittner said he would accept a plea, but a plea agreement would have to give him discretion to impose whatever sentence he deemed appropriate after federal probation authorities conduct a pre-sentencing investigation.
Sources close to the case said Andrew Fastow was prepared to plead guilty and be sentenced to prison for 10 years and pay at least $20 million, but his deal was contingent upon a five-month prison term for his wife. The couple has two sons, ages 4 and 8, and want to prevent overlapping sentences so the boys will have at least one parent at home.
Hittner said preparations for Lea Fastow’s Feb. 10 trial will continue, though he would delay it for 60 days or more to allow necessary time for a pre-sentencing investigation to take place. Her lawyers have yet to request a postponement.
Andrew Fastow’s trial is scheduled for April 20, and his lawyers are awaiting word on their request to move his trial outside of Texas.
Defense lawyers and prosecutors can return to the judge with a proposed plea deal at any time until a jury renders a verdict.
The plea talks and discussions of possible prison sentences before either Fastow appears in court has damaged their right to a fair trial if the negotiations collapse, said Edward J. Bronson, a political science professor at the University of California, Chico and a trial venue expert.
“I can’t believe they won’t resolve it,” Bronson said. “Now you have what amounts to a confession in the public domain. It clearly affects the fair trial rights of either of them if they were to go to trial.”