As ousted Enron Corp. chief financial officer Andrew Fastow found himself a target during the fallout of the company’s collapse, friends, his rabbi and even a family spokesman rallied for him.
Now that the Justice Department has won a freeze on Fastow family assets, saying in court papers they were derived from ill-gotten gains, many of those public cries of support have gone muted, if not completely silent.
“I’m referring all calls to lawyers,” Fastow’s rabbi, Shaul Osadchey of Congregation Or Ami in Houston, said. “I think this is a personal time. They need my rabbinic support.”
Lawyers often ask those close to potential criminal defendants to reserve their public comments. Press clippings can be used in court, as they were extensively earlier this year to win an obstruction of justice conviction against auditor Arthur Andersen LLP, which also was pursued by Enron Task Force prosecutors.
Even the family’s professional spokesman, Gordon Andrew, said he has been asked not to comment about the family’s welfare or virtually any other Fastow-related subject.
Fastow’s lead attorney, John Keker, did not return repeated telephone requests for interviews by The Associated Press. Several other Fastow associates who have spoken publicly in the past also did not return messages.
Meanwhile, the Washington, D.C.-based task force continues to examine evidence and the pledged assistance of former Fastow lieutenant Michael Kopper, who pleaded guilty to money laundering and wire fraud Aug. 21. His was the first conviction of a former Enron executive.
Enron’s slide into bankruptcy accelerated Oct. 16 when the company disclosed a $1.2 billion reduction in shareholder equity partly related to partnerships run by Fastow.
Those Byzantine partnerships, which allegedly enriched Fastow, Kopper and others at the expense of Enron and its shareholders, have been the subject of intense focus for several months. They led to Fastow’s ouster from Enron on Oct. 24.
Fastow, 40, who declined to testify before Congress last winter, hasn’t spoken publicly since he left Enron.
Like Kopper, from Long Island, Fastow also hails from the New York City area, on the New Jersey side. He attended Tufts University and went to Northwestern University’s business school. Before joining Enron, he worked at Continental Bank in Chicago.
Fastow married the former Lea Weingarten, who comes from a powerful old-line Houston real estate family that once was the city’s most prominent grocer.
A friend of Fastow’s wife said she has been the “rock of the family” and has tried diligently to protect the couple’s two young sons.
“She is trying to hold the family together and make things more normal for the children,” said Barry Walker, a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, where the Fastows have been active.
The couple, who own a home in Vermont, had been on vacation until recently. They were back in time for the latest splash of headlines associated with Kopper, who implicated Fastow as a co-conspirator who concocted schemes to skim money from Enron.
Kopper faces up to 15 years in prison, though his punishment could be lightened considerably by his cooperation. Fastow has not been charged, though investigators have listed about $14 million in Fastow family accounts prosecutors believe were derived from illegal activity.
Authorities also are pursuing an estimated $2.6 million home the Fastows have nearly finished building in River Oaks, a short walk from homes owned by Kopper, former chief executive officer Jeffrey Skilling and former chairman Kenneth Lay in Houston’s wealthiest neighborhood.
Fastow had intended to sell the new home once it is complete this autumn, Andrew said. The family will continue to live in a $700,000 home in a neighborhood called Southampton, which not coincidentally was the name of one of the partnerships on which prosecutors have zeroed on.
Walker said he’s saddened by his friend’s predicament.
“Lea’s really a great person,” he said. “I just hate to think what she’s having to go through.”