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Former Enron Executive Pleads Guilty

Aug 21, 2002 | UPI

Former Enron Corp. executive Michael Kopper pleaded guilty Wednesday to money laundering and wire fraud in an agreement to cooperate in the government investigation of the fallen energy trading company.

Kopper, the first Enron official to face criminal charges, also agreed to surrender $12 million in illegally obtained assets as part of the plea bargain.

The money will be returned to Enron shareholders.

Kopper, a 37-year-old former aide to ex-Enron Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow, is considered a key figure in the investigation because of his role in creation of off balance sheet partnerships.

Kopper admitted to U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein that he helped defraud Enron of millions of dollars through three partnerships: Radr, Chrewco and Southhampton. He said he and Fastow harmed shareholders and concealed their personal gains.

His attorney, David Howard, read a statement to reporters outside the courthouse:

"Today Michael Kopper has accepted personal responsibility for his role in the Enron tragedy. Michael has admitted that he used his position at Enron to enrich himself and others and in so doing violated his duties as an Enron employee. Michael hopes that these actions demonstrate his deep regret for his own conduct. He apologizes to all whose lives have been affected by what he did."

In a Washington news conference, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson called the plea bargain deal a major development in the Enron investigation.

"This plea marks a significant milestone," he said. "We have secured the cooperation of an important witness" and recovered at least $12 million for investors.

A former federal prosecutor told the Houston Chronicle that Kopper can lead investigators through the accounting and financial transactions that brought about the spiraling fall of Enron.

"He embodies the perfect cooperating witness because he is not viewed by the public as being one of the most culpable defendants, but at the same time, he has a vast array of knowledge and can point the government in the right direction as they attempt to unravel these complex financial transactions," said Robert Mintz.

Kopper could receive up to 10 years in prison for money laundering and five years for wire fraud. Sentencing was set for April 4 but it could be delayed depending on developments.

The former Enron official was released after posting a $5 million bond.

Kopper was director of the Global Finance Division at Enron and considered Fastow's right-hand man in managing partnerships such as Chewco Investments L.P., which was named after the Star Wars character Chewbacca. He resigned in June 2001.

Enron filed for Chapter 11 protection last December in the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history at that time, leaving thousands of employees without jobs and retirement funds.

Arthur Andersen LLP, Enron's auditor, was also caught up in the company's trouble when it was convicted in June on a charge of obstruction of justice for shredding Enron documents after learning of a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation.

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