Lea Fastow, who was born into Houston’s monied elite and became half of Enron Corp.’s power couple, on Monday became inmate No. 20290-179 in a federal prison a mile from the disgraced company’s former headquarters.
The wife of former Enron finance chief Andrew Fastow checked into the 11-story Federal Detention Center nearly six hours before her deadline to begin her yearlong sentence for a misdemeanor tax crime. She did not display any emotion.
“She knows she was due here at 2 o’clock and she wanted to get it going,” lawyer Mike DeGeurin said. “If the judge says do 12 push-ups, she’s going to do 13.”
Andrew Fastow did not accompany his wife of 19 years, instead staying home with the couple’s two grade-school-age sons, DeGeurin said. She was accompanied by her father, Jack Weingarten, and her brother and sister.
Lea Fastow, 42, pleaded guilty in May to helping her husband hide ill-gotten income from financial schemes that fueled Enron’s December 2001 crash.
Andrew Fastow pleaded guilty in January to two counts of conspiracy. He faces up to 10 years in prison once prosecutors no longer need his cooperation to pursue other defendants, including his one-time bosses, former Enron chairman Kenneth Lay and former CEO Jeffrey Skilling.
Because of their two sons, the couple wanted to avoid simultaneous prison terms. That should be possible because he is expected to be a key witness in the pending case against Skilling, Lay and former top accountant Richard Causey. That case is expected to require months of preparation followed by months of testimony, and no trial date has been set.
Lea Fastow’s lawyers had asked the judge to recommend the Federal Bureau of Prisons place her at a minimum-security camp for women in Bryan, about 90 miles northwest of Houston. But U.S. District Judge David Hittner refused to recommend a specific institution, and the prisons bureau placed her at the detention center, about four miles from the Fastows’ affluent home.
Lea Fastow grew up in River Oaks, Houston’s wealthiest enclave, and is an heiress to a grocery and real estate fortune amassed by one of the city’s most respected old-line families.
But at the prison she will be sharing an 8-foot-by-10-foot cell in a gray, 11-story building where the only chance to go outside is during brief and rare outings on the roof. She’ll probably prepare food or do laundry for less than 50 cents a day.
The detention center is more restrictive than minimum-security camps because it houses men and women in separate quarters of all kinds of security classifications, most of them there for drug crimes. The facility and others like it commonly house inmates serving three years or less, according to spokeswoman Maria Douglas.
Lea Fastow rose to assistant treasurer at Enron but quit in 1997 to focus on motherhood. He was named chief financial officer in 1998.
Lea Fastow was indicted last year on six felony tax and conspiracy charges for crimes that occurred after she left Enron. Her husband already had been indicted in what grew to 98 counts of conspiracy, fraud, insider trading and other charges.
According to DeGeurin, she persuaded her husband to cut a deal with prosecutors and plead guilty while her legal team negotiated a deal for her.
Under a planned plea bargain, she pleaded guilty to a felony tax crime. But Hittner balked because the agreement would have bound him to impose five months in prison followed by five months home confinement, when federal sentencing guidelines called for a range of 10 to 16 months. She withdrew her plea, pleaded guilty to a newly filed misdemeanor, and the judge imposed the maximum of a year in prison.