Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Court orders Skilling to jail

Court orders Skilling to jail
By Eileen O'Grady

HOUSTON (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday ordered ex-Enron Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling to begin serving immediately a 24-year prison sentence after a one-day reprieve, according to court documents.

Late on Tuesday, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied Skilling's request to remain free on bail while he appeals fraud and conspiracy convictions.

"As a result of the Fifth Circuit's ruling, the government is pleased that the jury's verdict and the District Court's sentence will now be carried out for defendant Skilling," U.S. Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra said in a statement.

Skilling's attorney, Daniel Petrocelli, was not immediately available for comment.

Skilling had been scheduled to report to a Minnesota federal prison on Tuesday, but the Fifth Circuit Court said late on Monday that Skilling could stay out while a panel of the court's judges gave "careful consideration" to his bail request.

A spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons said Skilling was not yet in their custody.

Veteran Houston appellate lawyer and TV legal commentator Brian Wice expressed amazement at the court's one-day reversal.

"I've never seen in 27 years of appellate practice the panel stay the decision to send someone to prison the day of and then reverse it the next day," Wice said. "How can you go from 'careful consideration' to 'don't let the cell door hit you in the behind'?"

Another appellate attorney, who declined to be identified, said the ruling does not mean the court has any opinion on Skilling's chance for a successful appeal and does not prevent Skilling from being granted bail at a later date.

Skilling, 53, was sentenced to 24 years in prison for his role in hiding Enron's financial condition from investors as the company's fortunes eroded prior to its 2001 collapse.

In May, a Houston jury convicted Skilling of defrauding investors. Skilling maintains he committed no crime and plans to appeal. His sentence is the longest handed out to a former Enron executive.

Energy giant Enron, once the seventh-largest U.S. company, spiraled into bankruptcy in a tangle of secret deals that hid billions of dollars in debt. Thousands of workers lost their jobs and pensions, and investors lost billions of dollars.

Skilling is to serve his sentence at the low-security prison in Waseca, Minnesota, which is about 75 miles south of Minneapolis.

Low-security prisons are designated for nonviolent offenders and often resemble school dormitories. The facilities typically do not have barbed wire or guard towers.

(Additional reporting by Bruce Nichols, Erwin Seba and Anna Driver)