The jury in Houston returned its verdict today in the “Enron Trial”; basically no surprise, as founder Ken Lay and CEO Jeff Skilling were found guilty on most counts against them. In addition, a judge ruled against Lay in a Bank Fraud case which was tried before his bench, waiting for the jury’s decision before releasing his own.
There is a lot of information on the case, testimony as well as documents, but my gut call on the trial is this; one man was a cold-blooded villain, and the other a well-meaning fool who let his priorities get way out of line. I say this because of the financial fates of the men when Enron collapsed; Skilling sold short, obviously aware of what was happening and trying to save his own fortune, while Lay lost millions by hanging on to Enron stock – yes, he sold some stock right before the crash, but he appears, from what I have seen, to have put that money into the company in a desperate move to avoid the collapse. Skilling didn’t give a fig about anyone but himself, while Lay was trying to save his company.
Don’t think I am saying Lay is not accountable for his actions. Lay is responsible for what happened, in the same way that a drunk driver, though he doesn’t mean to harm anyone, is still responsible for the wreck. And in the matter of this trial, it means that Lay and Skilling are both looking at a lot of time in federal prison.
The lesson, unfortunately, will be missed by most of the people who should get it. In the case of Skilling, it means that sometimes crooks get caught, but we know from history that greedy people are always looking for a way to get around the rules. And in the case of Lay, a lot of people need to learn that good intentions don’t mean you don’t have to pay for your mistakes, especially when they destroy the fortunes and work of so many people.