What does Andy Fastow do all day?
He watches a lot of television. He follows what’s said about him with car-wreck fascination, friends and associates say. He is transfixed by the morning shows, cable news and financial wrap-ups. He is, by turns, angry, amused and resigned. People close to Fastow have advised him to stop watching, and sometimes he’ll impose a blackout, but it doesn’t last.
One of corporate America’s most reviled figures has time on his hands. He’s been unemployed since being ousted as Enron’s chief financial officer a year ago. Now he spends time with his wife, Lea, and two young sons at their home in the fashionable Houston enclave of Southampton Place. His 3-year-old is safely unaware of what’s happening. But the 7-year-old may be old enough to understand if anyone can understand why security guards are stationed outside the house, why cameramen come onto the lawn and why a New York Times reporter attended his Tadpole League baseball game to watch his father, an American pariah, coach third base.
Andrew Stuart Fastow, 40, is the main target of the investigation into Enron’s stunning collapse, the alleged mastermind of the off-balance-sheet partnerships that sank the world’s seventh biggest corporation into bankruptcy. He enriched himself by tens of millions. The Justice Department and the SEC are closing in. He could be criminally charged any day.
Fastow has stayed invisible and quiet with a vengeance. He declined to be interviewed for this story, just as he always declines through his spokesman, Gordon G. Andrew to be interviewed for all stories. Fastow has said nothing publicly except for a few sentences before a House subcommittee in February. “I would like to answer the committee’s questions,” Fastow said, looking boyish, nervous and sleep-deprived. “But on the advice of my counsel, I respectfully decline to answer the questions based on the protection afforded me under the Constitution of the United States.”
Fastow’s only other public appearance came last December when his lawyer, then David Boies called a news conference to dispel a rumor that he had fled the country.
His current attorney, John W. Keker, a former special prosecutor during the Iran-contra scandal, has also said nothing, although he did respond to a query for this article about his and Fastow’s silence. “The proper place to confront liars, not-for-attribution whisperers, responsibility dodgers, and the ‘I had no idea’ types is in the courtroom; not in the media,” Keker wrote in an e-mail. “The media these days is so clogged reporting on the charlatans, that truth won’t be heard.”
Fastow’s silence has created a vacuum that’s been filled with damning documents, videotapes, public testimony and terrible press. They portray a brash and greedy schemer, a table-pounder in meetings, a “prickly guy that would tell you everything wrong about others and everything right about himself,” former CEO Jeffrey Skilling told lawyers investigating the case for the company’s board of directors.
“There is zero sympathy for the guy down here,” says Tom Cunningham, a Houston lawyer who has worked on cases for and against Enron. “Most people are just waiting for him to go to jail.”
And yet Fastow has become an almost mythic subject, to a point where the trivia of his day-to-day life has become an odd curiosity. His rabbi, Shaul Osadchey of Congregation Or Ami in Houston is a media star, repeatedly defending Fastow and dubbing him a mensch. There was a recent Fastow sighting at Benjy’s, a restaurant near his home, where it was reported by the Houston Chronicle that he ordered chocolate cake.
Among the top Enron executives implicated in the scandal, Fastow might be the most mysterious figure. The others, Skilling and longtime CEO Ken Lay have at least mustered shows of unbowed spirit, if not defiance. Skilling was one of the few Enron executives who didn’t invoke their Fifth Amendment privilege on Capitol Hill. Lay, who along with his wife, Linda, was interviewed by Lisa Myers on NBC last winter, has partly resumed his man-about-Houston regimen on the charity, social and cultural circuit.
Fastow no longer speaks to Skilling, or Lay, or his former lieutenant, Michael Kopper, who pleaded guilty last month to charges that he helped build the partnerships that disguised Enron’s crumbling business and funneled millions to himself, Fastow and others.
Fastow sees few people except for about six friends and his immediate family, which includes his parents, Carl and Joan Fastow. Late last year, shortly after the Enron scandal come to light, Carl and Joan moved from New Jersey to Houston to be closer to their son. They now live in a house in Southampton that Andy purchased for them, the former home of Michael Kopper.
Andy Fastow keeps an office at an undisclosed locale in downtown Houston. There, he sends and reads e-mail, talks to his lawyers and inevitably studies articles about himself online.
He reads a rehashed account of an incident that took place in Chicago 17 years ago. Fastow, who was attending Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, became involved in a dispute with a cabdriver over change. The cabby, who previously had been suspended 14 times, threw a punch and was suspended again.
Like the taxi driver, others on the far peripheries of Fastow’s life have gained footnote fame. “I was a skinny little girl and Andy used to call me Gumby,” says Lori Redunski, who was a childhood neighbor of Fastow’s and now lives in Austin. He wasn’t a bad kid, she says. But his circumstances have stirred a rush of e-mail traffic among his former peers. Above all, Fastow is a celebrity, which carries its own cachet. “I have a friend who went to high school with that actor Ray Liotta,” Redunski says. “But I get to say I grew up with Andy Fastow.”
Shortly after the Enron story broke, Fastow was dining alone in a restaurant in New York and struck up a conversation with a man from Milwaukee. Fastow told him who he was and where he’d worked. “I just saw Yoko Ono here 20 minutes ago,” the man told Fastow, who has recounted the story to friends. “But this tops Yoko.”
The Enron calamity is now entrenched as Houston’s civic signature. Even casual watchers of the scandal here can recite the names of its key figures, their presumed rap sheets and in many cases, exactly where they live (as if they sold Hollywood-style maps). Curious visitors file into the luxury thrift shop Jus’ Stuff, from which Linda Lay is hawking the leftover contents from the vacation homes she and Ken are unloading the odd bronze goat ($700), painted horse ($3,600) or Charles Barkley jersey ($380). Tourists get their pictures taken next to the silver tilted “E” sculptures outside Enron’s largely empty downtown offices. One tilted E sign sold for $44,000 on Wednesday in an auction of Enron surplus items. “Yesterday I took a British lady here from her hotel and back,” says Oliver Egenti, a Houston cabdriver sitting in his taxi outside the headquarters. “She got out of the car, took a picture and we left.” He earned $44.
Within the lineup of Enron’s key players, little about Fastow seems extraordinary except the accusations against him. He was born in the Washington area, the middle of three sons. He spent his early years in Northern Virginia and Long Island before his family moved to the comfortable New York suburb of New Providence, N.J. His father worked in merchandising for a drugstore chain. He met Lea Weingarten, the daughter of a former Miss Israel, while he attended Tufts University. He smoked a pipe when he returned home from college, recalled Anne Dillman, a member of the New Jersey state school board who knew Fastow when he served as student representative to the board in 1980. “I wish him well,” Dillman says in an interview, adding that she is “very disappointed” in him.
Today, Fastow jogs around Rice University, near his home. He plays tennis, frequents Starbucks, belongs to a country club and takes his sons fishing on his 18-foot Boston Whaler. He has a home in Galveston, close to Lay’s (they share the same media-weary caretaker), and a cabin on 68 acres in Norwich, Vt. He has a Porsche 911 and a Mercedes-Benz E320 wagon and contributed $1,000 to the George W. Bush for President campaign.
Until recently, Fastow could often be seen at the site of the 11,493-square-foot mansion he was building in River Oaks, Houston’s most exclusive area. It is a neighborhood of big lawns, wrought-iron security gates and a roster of Enron’s elite that includes Lay and Skilling.
Fastow’s move to River Oaks was a milestone of his self-made success. Lea Fastow comes from a wealthy Houston family, and one of the popular theories to explain Fastow’s alleged greed is that he was desperate to show that he could “succeed on his own.”
Fastow was proud of his new home and he monitored its construction closely, according to a source involved with the project. The three-story house at 3005 Del Monte Ave. features six fireplaces, Italian blue flagstone flooring, a limestone exterior, a slate roof and a three-car garage. It is nearly finished.
But the Fastows won’t move in. They will stay in their current home, figuring the family has endured enough upheaval. The River Oaks property is on the market, for $4.3 million, and the federal government, which has frozen an estimated $23 million in assets held by Fastow and his associates will likely keep the proceeds. There are mounds of dirt in front, a “No Trespassing” sign on a cyclone fence, and a boxy wooden structure that houses the toilets for the construction workers. (Porta-johns are not permitted in River Oaks.)
There are big A-frame windows and no drapes. Pedestrians can see from Del Monte Avenue through to the pool and whirlpool on the back patio. “There is no more work being done on that house, and that gives me great satisfaction,” Mary Bain Pearson, a 70-year-old Enron shareholder from Houston, told a Senate panel. The room filled with applause.
“This house is a big symbol,” says Tom Leishman, a subcontractor who worked on the mansion. “It’s a symbol that you can live the American dream, but you can’t rape it.” Leishman has stopped by to pick up some equipment. He is sitting in his white Ford pickup in front of the home, which he calls “a monstrosity.” His job was to haul garbage away.
The Family Guy
Fastow stays bunkered at his large red brick home in Southampton Place, about a mile away. There are toys in the yard and an American flag hanging from a balcony over the front door. The flag is huge, almost car-dealership size. It went up after Sept. 11. Fastow used to speak of his appreciation for the American way, especially as it related to capitalism, opportunity and financial reward. Now, he complains to friends about how the American promise of “innocent until proven guilty” has been perverted in his case. He has railed about how he’s been treated unfairly by Lay and Skilling, by opposing lawyers, by the media, by the community. He was a victim of a power struggle at Enron and has maintained through Gordon Andrew, that he acted with the full knowledge of the company’s top executives, board of directors and auditors.
Fastow is eager to correct the record and explain himself, if only because his boys will be old enough to be curious one day. He consults with Andrew, a public relations veteran in Princeton, N.J., who is a former head of corporate communications for Citigroup, and its CEO, Sandy Weill. Jail terrifies Fastow more than anything, he has told people close to him, and avoiding it is far more important than trying to salvage his image.
He thinks of his boys growing up without him. “Fastow’s devotion to his family is accepted by anyone who knows him,” says David Berg, a Houston attorney who has been involved in suits against Enron. In the accounts of strip-clubbing and bosses marrying their secretaries that marked Enron’s heyday, Fastow’s name is absent.
He is a family man, even his accusers say, but it’s difficult to unstick the goo that connects Fastow’s loved ones to the accusations against him. Indeed, Fastow named two of his partnerships for the first initials of his wife and boys, LJM and LJM2 and another one after his neighborhood, Southampton.
Kopper’s plea agreement includes several references to Fastow siphoning money from the partnerships to benefit members of his family. Lea Fastow, a former Enron finance employee could also be in legal trouble. The Justice Department alleges that the couple received at least $17 million in illegally gained cash from the partnerships, according to court papers filed in Kopper’s plea deal.
Does a family man embroil his family in something like this? “There are a lot of hard lessons here,” says Tom Cunningham. “But Andy Fastow has gone horribly wrong and something needs to be done.”
“It’s not our fault if he ruined his kids’ lives,” adds Leishman, the waste services contractor.
Members of Congress deride him as “Fast Andy Fastow” and the “Betty Crocker of cooked books.” He receives death threats and sees anti-Semitic postings about himself on Internet message boards. He burrows into his legal strategy and drives his kids to school, obsesses on the small details of his past and contemplates black holes in his future.
His flag-draped house is a temporary sanctuary, just as the aborted mansion in River Oaks has become an icon of Enron’s rash ambitions. It is an empty shell of grand plans. Like Andy Fastow, it sits there, exposed and in limbo.
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