Former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling declared his innocence and expressed remorse about Enron’s 2001 demise and its devastating fallout to employees and investors before he was sentenced to a 24-year prison term yesterday, reports the Houston Chronicle. U.S. District Judge Simeon Lake imposed a term at the bottom of a possible range that stretched to 30 years and five months. Skilling must pay $45 million in restitution should he lose his appeal. “It’s difficult to understand how 24 years for a nonviolent crime can be the low end of anything,” said David Berg, a Houston civil litigator.
Others, including nine of the 16 jurors and alternates in Skilling’s trial who attended his sentencing, approved. Philip Hilder, a former federal prosecutor who represents several Enron defendants and witnesses, said the punishment was fair. Skilling has had two alcohol-laced run-ins with the law, one in 2004 that involved no arrest, and again last month in Dallas, where he was arrested on a misdemeanor. The judge yesterday said that “Congress has determined that crimes like this are deserving of a long punishment.” Though tantamount to life in prison, the prison term compares to a “life sentence of poverty” suffered by victims who lost jobs and money when Enron imploded, he said. Skilling, 52, can shave up to 3 1/2 years from his term – or 15 percent – for good behavior. He also can cut up to a year if he completes a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program.