Judge Arthur Gonzalez of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan ruled late last week that deferred compensation payments made in the months preceding the company’s fall, to John Clifford Baxter, the former vice chairman of Enron Corp., favored Baxter over other creditors. Baxter received $1.3 million of the $1.4 million he had in his deferred-compensation account on September 30, 2001. Federal bankruptcy law requires that the money be returned to the company and distributed to other creditors, Judge Gonzalez said, according to the Houston Chronicle.
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Baxter, who had resigned as vice chairman of Enron in mid-2001, was found dead in January 2002 in Houston, from a gunshot wound to his head. His death was ruled a suicide. Baxter was quoted in the Sherron Watkins memo to Ken Lay as saying that Enron “would implode in a wave of accounting scandals” unless it changed its accounting practices, the Houston Chronicle reports.
Attorneys for Baxter’s estate argued that Baxter had paid $500,000 in taxes on the amount and that the matter belonged in probate court.
In the fall of 2001, Enron employees, including Baxter, submitted requests for early withdrawals from their deferred compensation accounts. Of these, 113 employees collected $53 million, the Houston Chronicle reported at the time. The remaining 85 requests, which came from retired employees, were denied. These employees brought suit in bankruptcy court charging that 32 former employees and Baxter’s estate, who had received payment, had been given preferential treatment.
Because Ken Lay had filed an appeal of his conviction before he died of heart failure on July 5, his conviction and his indictments may be erased under the “abatement doctrine,” CFO.com says, a development that could affect the outcome of civil suits against Lay.
“If you’re on appeal and you die before that appeal is decided, it’s like stepping on the way-back machine,” says law professor Peter J. Henning of Wayne State University. Upholding the abatement doctrine in 2004, the circuit court in Lay’s jurisdiction said, “the state should not label one as guilty until he has exhausted his opportunity to appeal,” CFO.com reports.
The government, through the Labor Department (DoL), has asked Judge Sim Lake to delay clearing Lay’s record until October 23, the sentencing date for both Lay and Skilling, to give Congress time to consider a law that will deny the courts the power to erase convictions and indictments under the abatement doctrine, CNNMoney says. Lay had been ordered to pay the government $43.5 million that he had gained from fraud, which the government may not be able to recover from his estate.
If Lay’s indictment is erased, his $5 million bond, which is backed by his children's homes, will be returned, and the government will be unable to seize any of his property, CFO.com says.
Earlier this month, Lay’s estate accepted a Department of Labor cap of $12 million that former Enron employees who had lost their pensions could try to claim from the estate, CNNMoney reports. The Labor Department said that any amount eventually recovered would be dependent on the assets available in the estate.
Lay was sued by the Department of Labor for misrepresenting the company’s financial turmoil to its employees, failing to monitor the managers of the plans and as a director, failing to appoint a trustee for the plans, the Chronicle reports.
The government and other litigants have already been awarded $221 million in pension funds in other cases, but the awards are being appealed, the Chronicle says.