“An Enron End Run”: Using Expensive Legal Claims As Leverage, Top Enron Fraudster Reaches Deal To Slash Sentence
Even when Jeffrey Skilling was first sentenced for conspiring in one of the largest corporate fraud schemes in modern history, he received less jail time than some low-level drug offenders sentenced to harsh mandatory minimums. But this week, Skilling reached a deal with the Department of Justice to cut his 24-year sentence to as little as 14 years, in exchange for abandoning the onslaught of appeals he has launched at his own expense. Reuters reports:
The agreement … could result in Skilling’s freedom in late 2018, with good behavior.
In exchange, Skilling, 59, who has long maintained his innocence, agreed to stop appealing his conviction. The agreement would also allow more than $40 million seized from him to be freed up for distribution to Enron fraud victims.
A resentencing became necessary after a federal appeals court upheld Skilling’s conviction but found the original sentence too harsh.
Once ranked seventh on the Fortune 500 list of large U.S. companies, Enron went bankrupt on December 2, 2001 in an accounting scandal that remains one of the largest and most infamous U.S. corporate meltdowns.
Thousands of workers lost their jobs and retirement savings, and images were beamed around the globe of staff carrying possessions out of Enron’s downtown Houston office tower, past the company’s “crooked E” logo.
Even in 2006, when Skilling was first sentenced, his legal defense was deemed one of the most expensive in history at $65 million, and in the years since he has taken his case to the Supreme Court and back on appeal after appeal. By settling, the Department of Justice not only saved itself the considerable expense of continuing this legal battle; it also gets access to the more than $40 million in seized assets Skilling had previously not agreed to surrender. As a consequence of these negotiations, Skilling’s sentence is even more disparate from the 25-year-plus sentences of drug defendants charged for low-level offenses like selling their own pain pills to an undercover informant.
If Skilling’s reduced sentence is approved by a judge during his June hearing, as is likely, Skilling will nonetheless not have had an ideal run with the criminal justice system. His lawyers made a persuasive argument that the statute initially used to convict him was overly broad. And his sentence was disproportionately high relative to alleged Enron scandal mastermind Andrew Fastow, who got only six years in prison after he testified against both Skilling and Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay. But more severe versions of these problems plague countless criminal defendants, who, rather than having the leverage to shorten their sentence or the legal resources to take down a statute, are coerced into plea deals under threat of draconian prison terms.
By: Nicole Flatow, Think Progress, May 10, 2013
Florida Governor Rick Scott sent the strongest signal yet that he plans to defy the Department of Justice and continue purging registered voters the rolls. Last week, the Justice Department sent Scott a letter demanding an end the voter purgebecause it was in violation of federal law. His deadline for responding to the letter is today.
Although Florida has not formally responded to the Justice Department letter, a Scott administration spokesman strongly indicated to the Miami Herald that Governor Scott had no intention of ending the purge:
“Our letter will address the issues raised by DOJ while emphasizing the importance of having accurate voter rolls,” said Chris Cate, spokesman for Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who’s in charge of the state’s elections division.
Cate would neither confirm nor deny what was in the state’s response, but he acknowledged that the state disagrees with the federal government and doesn’t plan to throw in the towel. “We know we’ve been acting responsibly,” he said…
“DOJ is making the same argument as the groups that have sent letters to us,” Cate said. “If we disagree with the interpretation — it doesn’t matter who’s raising it — we disagree with the interpretation”…
“We’ve been acting responsibly through this process,” Cate said. “And our letter will reiterate that while addressing the concerns raised by DOJ. We have continued our efforts to identify ineligible voters.”
It’s unclear what the practical impact of Governor Scott’s decision will be, however. All 67 county election supervisors, in light of the Department of Justice letter, have suspended executing the purge. Some have even reinstated voters purged previously. The local election supervisors, not the state, has the ultimate authority to remove names.
By: Judd Legum, Think Progress, June 6, 2012
“Violating Basic Civil Rights”: Gov Rick Scott’s Florida Voter Purge Gets Pushback From Elections Supervisors And U.S. Justice Dept
Florida elections supervisors said Friday they will discontinue a state-directed effort to remove names from county voter rolls because they believe the state data is flawed and because the U.S. Department of Justice has said the process violates federal voting laws.
Late Thursday, the Department of Justice sent Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner a letter telling him that an effort launched by Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration last year to remove the names of people believed to be non-citizens from voter rolls appears to violate at least two federal voting laws. The federal agency gave Detzner until Wednesday to respond.
The Justice Department letter and mistakes that the 67 county elections supervisors have found in the state list make the scrub undoable, said Martin County Elections Supervisor Vicki Davis, president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections.
“There are just too many variables with this entire process at this time for supervisors to continue,” Davis said.
Ron Labasky, the association’s general counsel, sent a memo to the 67 supervisors Friday telling them to stop processing the list.
“I recommend that Supervisors of Elections cease any further action until the issues raised by the Department of Justice are resolved between the parties or by a Court,” Labasky wrote.
Davis said the effect on supervisors will be “if they’ve started the process and they do find out that someone is ineligible to vote and they have credible and reliable information to back it up, then they will remove that person from the database. But if they have not had contact with someone on the list, they’re stopping at that point.”
Detzner in April sent supervisors a list of more than 2,600 voters his Division of Elections had identified as potential non-citizens by matching the state’s voter registration database with driver license records. Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher received 115 such names.
Supervisors were supposed to send letters to those on the list notifying them to provide proof of citizenship within 30 days or be removed from the voter rolls. But supervisors say they have found errors, including some on the list who have died, many who have become naturalized citizens since they first got their driver licenses, and others who are U.S.-born citizens — including a 91-year-old, Brooklyn-born World War II hero who now lives in Broward County.
Detzner’s spokesman, Chris Cate, said of the supervisors’ plan, “The supervisors have the ultimate duty of making the determination of eligibility. We respect the process and we have confidence in their capability to determine if someone is an ineligible voter or not.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department said the scrub appears to violate at least two federal National Voting Rights Act laws.
Five counties in Florida require federal approval before any voting or election changes are made for those counties, but Detzner did not seek approval from the Justice Department or a federal court, according to the letter written by T. Christian Herren, chief of the Justice Department’s voting section.
Florida’s current effort also appears to violate the National Voting Right Act’s prohibition on any major voter scrub 90 days before an election, Herron wrote. With an Aug. 14 primary scheduled in Florida, that would prohibit scrubs after May 16.
Herren gave Detzner until Wednesday to respond “so that the Department can determine what further action, if any, is necessary.”
Detzner issued a press release Friday indicating he will respond on time but will not back down from the state’s effort.
“As Florida’s Chief Election Officer, I am committed to ensuring the accuracy of Florida’s voter rolls and the integrity of our elections. . . . The Department will continue to act in a responsible and cautious manner when presented with credible information about potentially ineligible voters. No one that has the right to vote has been denied the opportunity to cast a vote, and as the Secretary, it is my duty to ensure that remains the case,” Detzner said.
Cate said the agency disagrees with the federal department’s interpretation of the 90-day restriction on voter list maintenance.
“We’ll address that specifically in our response to DOJ,” he said. “We have a year-round responsibility to make sure ineligible voters cannot cast a ballot.”
Detzner also has blamed federal officials for the faulty data. On Thursday, he sent a request to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for access to its Systematic Alien Verification of Eligibility database so that his department could use it to identify potentially ineligible voters.
Last month the state’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles volunteered to help state elections officials by using its access to the federal database to check Florida’s list of suspected non-citizens. But this week the highway department determined it is only allowed to use the list to check the names of people who are applying for driver licenses or state identification cards, DHSMV spokeswoman Courtney Heidelberg said.
The effort to remove names of immigrants from voter rolls has sparked accusations from civil-rights and liberal groups that Scott’s Republican administration is trying to suppress voter turnout in November in the crucial swing state of Florida.
“The question no one is asking is why are they doing this,” said Progress Florida Political Director Damien Filer. “The fact is Rick Scott is carrying on a disgraceful GOP legacy of disenfranchising voters in Florida. And he’s doing it on purpose. Sadly, Florida is once again a late-show punch line. Jon Stewart and Jay Leno are no doubt thrilled. Florida voters, not so much.”
In 2000, thousands of eligible voters were not allowed to vote because of an error-riddled felon voter list created under Gov. Jeb Bush’s administration. State officials abandoned another problematic felon voter list four years later.
Liberal activists started an online petition at credoaction.com asking the Justice Department to intervene, and Democrats, including Boca Raton U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, have asked Scott’s administration to abandon the effort.
GOP leaders also intensified the rhetoric this week.
Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry urged supporters to call or e–mail the White House to demand that the Homeland Security department give Detzner access to its database.
“While Democrats and their liberal special interests demagogue the important issue of securing our elections, they seem happy to accept that illegal voters may be in our system,” Curry said on the party’s website, rpof.org. “Florida’s Republicans believe the vote is the foundation of our democracy, and it is too important to allow even one illegal vote to be cast.”
Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Scott Arceneaux responded, “Pointing the finger at SAVE or other databases is a smokescreen and it’s a red herring for a system that’s clearly rife with error.”
By: Dara Kam, Staff Writer, The Palm Beach Post, June 2, 2012