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Last of Enron execs sentenced

Ex-accounting officer to serve 5 1/2 years in prison

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Former Enron executive Richard Causey leaves the federal courthouse in Houston Wednesday with his wife, Elizabeth.

Former Enron executive Richard Causey leaves the federal courthouse in Houston Wednesday with his wife, Elizabeth.

David J. Phillip, Associated Press

HOUSTON — Richard Causey, the last of the top Enron Corp. executives to learn his punishment, was sentenced Wednesday to 5 1/2 years in prison for his role in one of the biggest corporate scandals in U.S. history.

Causey, the energy trading company's former chief accounting officer, pleaded guilty in December to securities fraud two weeks before he was to be tried along with Enron founder Kenneth Lay and former chief executive Jeffrey Skilling on conspiracy, fraud and other charges.

"There were improper things done at Enron. Some of those things were done by me. For that, I'm sorry," Causey said before U.S. District Judge Sim Lake sentenced him. "As God is my witness, I never did anything intentionally to enrich myself or hurt the company or its employees."

After Causey, 46, serves his five years, six months in prison, he will have to serve two years' probation and pay a $25,000 fine that will be distributed to Enron's victims. Causey had already agreed to pay $1.25 million to the victims' funds and forfeited a claim to about $250,000 in deferred compensation

"I'm confident you will come out and be a credit to your family," Lake told Causey.

The maximum penalty for securities fraud is 10 years in prison and a fine of $1 million or twice the amount illegally gained.

Causey's sentencing came less than a month after ex-CEO Skilling was sentenced to more than 24 years in prison. It also came a week after Andrew Fastow, Enron's former chief financial officer, was sentenced to six years. Fastow had testified against Skilling and Lay, who were convicted in May of conspiracy and fraud. Lay's convictions were wiped out with his July death from heart disease.

Prosecutor Kathryn Ruemmler said the government could only recommend a modest reduction in sentence for Causey, who did not testify in the Lay-Skilling trial, though he was on the defense witness list.

"Mr. Causey bore tremendous responsibility to Enron employees and investors," she said. "And he abrogated that responsibility, and that caused harm to thousands of employees and investors."

Reid Weingarten, Causey's defense attorney, argued his client's guilty plea greatly simplified the government's case against Lay and Skilling because it laid out complicated details about how the company kept its books.

Weingarten also told Lake it would be unfair if Causey was sentenced to more time than Fastow, who just began serving six years in a federal prison in Louisiana.

"Who committed more crimes? Who was more responsible for the debacle of Enron?" Weingarten said.

After the court hearing, Weingarten told reporters his client was given a "harsh sentence."

"The goddess of justice would have wept if Causey had gotten more" than Fastow, he said.

Causey's wife and children cried after the sentence was announced. Causey will remain free on bond until he has to report to prison in four to six weeks.

At Weingarten's request, Lake said he would recommend to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons that Causey serve his time at the federal facility in Bastrop, about 30 miles southeast of Austin. The bureau will make the final decision on where Causey will go.

Prosecutors dropped their bid to seize Causey's home, a $950,000 brick house in a Houston suburb.

Causey, the government's 16th cooperating witness who entered a guilty plea, had faced more than 30 counts of conspiracy, fraud, insider trading, lying to auditors and money laundering.

In his guilty plea, Causey admitted that he and other senior Enron managers made various false public findings and statements.

Still to be sentenced Friday are Mark Koenig, Enron's former investor relations director, and Michael Kopper, an Enron managing director and Fastow's once-trusted top aide.

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