Former Enron Corp. Chief Executive Jeffrey K. Skilling entered prison quietly Wednesday, the final step in the fall of a man who presided over one of Wall Street’s biggest success stories.
Skilling embraced his wife before walking into the low-security Federal Correctional Institution here to begin his 24-year, four-month sentence for fraud and other crimes at the energy giant.
Barring a successful appeal, and even if he earns time off for good behavior, the 53-year-old Skilling will be an old man at the end of his term. His sentence is more than twice as long as that of any other Enron executive.
Skilling and Enron founder Kenneth L. Lay were convicted in May on numerous counts of fraud, conspiracy, insider trading and other charges in the collapse of the Houston-based firm, which led to the loss of thousands of jobs, more than $60 billion in company stock and more than $2 billion in employee pensions.
A federal judge Tuesday denied Skilling’s request to remain free on bond pending his appeal.
Skilling, accompanied by his brother, Mark, and his wife, Rebecca Carter, arrived at the prison in a silver Jeep Liberty. They drove past a crowd of media without stopping and walked into the prison. Skilling’s family members emerged a few minutes later and left.
The low-security prison sits on the city limits of this town of 8,400 people 75 miles south of Minneapolis.
Inmates at the prison have access to exercise facilities including a basketball court, running track and a pingpong table. Like most inmates, Skilling will probably be required to work in prison labor jobs such as food service, plumbing and painting, in which he would earn 12 to 40 cents an hour.
That’s a far cry from what Skilling earned at the helm of Enron: more than $151.7 million from 1999 to 2001, the time span of the indictment.
Lay died in July of a heart attack before he could be sentenced, prompting a judge to vacate his conviction.
Lay “probably would have faced a similar fate if he’d been able to stand up for sentencing on the same day as Skilling,” said Leslie Caldwell, onetime chief of the Justice Department’s Enron Task Force.
Andrew S. Fastow, Enron’s former chief financial officer pegged as the mastermind behind the complicated financial schemes that ultimately doomed the company, got six years in prison after pleading guilty. Several other executives are serving prison terms of 18 months to five years.
An important distinction, said former task force attorney Sam Buell, is that those below Skilling all pleaded guilty to some offenses, expressed remorse and in some cases went on to cooperate with the prosecution.
A better comparison for Skilling’s sentence, Caldwell said, are those received by other disgraced CEOs, such as Bernard J. Ebbers of Worldcom Inc., serving a 25-year sentence; and L. Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco International Ltd., who got eight to 25 years in prison in another fraud case.
“I’ve always thought since the beginning of the Enron case that none of this ever would have happened without Jeff Skilling,” Caldwell said. “I don’t think it’s inappropriate that he is getting the harshest sentence of anyone.”