Andrew Fastow, the Enron executive accused of masterminding the financial schemes that brought down the company, was charged Wednesday with inflating the energy giant’s profits and siphoning off millions for himself, his family and friends.
The former chief financial officer is the biggest Enron figure charged by the Justice Department so far. Prosecutors may use him to build a case against other insiders, including former Enron Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling and former Chairman Kenneth Lay.
Fastow, 40, surrendered to the FBI and was led away in handcuffs. He was charged with fraud, money laundering and conspiracy. He later was released on $5 million bail after his wife and his parents surrendered deeds to five different homes and provided a $3 million bond.
Prosecutors said Fastow executed “clandestine transactions” through a web of off-the-books partnerships to hide $1 billion in Enron debt.
“Fastow and his co-conspirators systematically and thoroughly corrupted the business of one of the largest corporations in the world,” Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson said in Washington.
The government described a conspiracy that lasted from 1997 to mid-2001. But except for Michael Kopper, a once- trusted Fastow aide who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy, the government’s criminal complaint does not identify other participants.
Fastow’s attorney, John Keker, said his client was just following orders.
“Enron hired Andy to arrange off- balance-sheet financing. Enron’s board of directors, its CEO and its chairman, directed and praised his work. Accountants and lawyers reviewed and approved his work,” Keker said outside the courthouse. “He never believed he was committing any crime.”
The criminal complaint says Enron’s directors relied on “false representations” from Fastow and Enron’s chief executive, chief accounting officer, treasurer and others when they approved two partnerships in 1999.
Lay was chairman and chief executive when those partnerships were approved. Skilling was president and chief operating officer. Skilling became chief executive in February 2001 and quit six months later, citing personal reasons.
Bruce Hiler, Skilling’s lawyer, declined to comment. Lay’s attorney didn’t return calls.
The maximum penalties in the charges against Fastow include 20 years in prison for money laundering, 10 years for securities fraud and five years each on the mail fraud and conspiracy charges.
Enron’s collapse last year was the first in a series of corporate scandals to rattle investors’ confidence and the stock market. Millions of investors lost money, and thousands of current and former Enron employees lost most of their retirement savings.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has filed related civil charges against Fastow, accusing him of defrauding investors and violating securities laws. The SEC is seeking unspecified penalties.
Fastow, who invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to testify before Congress early this year, reaped an estimated $30 million from the web of partnerships he set up, prosecutors said.
The government says Fastow used the partnerships to enrich himself and others. The transactions became known within Enron as “Friends of Enron” deals because the supposedly independent investors in the partnerships actually were friends or relatives of Enron executives.