What he couldn’t do in the courtroom, former Enron Chairman Ken Lay may finally be able to achieve in death – avoid a criminal record, says the Houston Chronicle. Lay, 64, who died of a heart attack yesterday in Aspen, Co., will likely have his case vacated, meaning it will be as if he were never charged. Government efforts to seize more than $43 million in assets from him through criminal proceedings will likely also end with his death, although the government could file civil forfeiture proceedings. Lay’s death came just six weeks after a jury convicted him of conspiracy and fraud for lying to investors about his knowledge of the energy giant’s health in the final months before its 2001 bankruptcy. He was also found guilty of four counts of bank fraud.
When the criminal case is vacated, so are the prosecutor’s efforts to seize assets from Lay. The government could file motions to seize assets through a civil proceeding. If any of Lay’s assets were frozen by the government the freeze would go away as the case was vacated. That means the plaintiffs in the civil cases would have to scramble to get a lock on those assets, which would be hard to do in the civil arena. Perhaps more significant for the civil cases, once the case is vacated it’s unlikely Lay’s prior indictment and conviction could be used as evidence in any ensuing trials. Said one expert: “They would have the burden of proof to prove his guilt all over again. It’s a mess for the government and the victims, who were probably already counting the money.”