Kenneth Lay, 64, the convicted founder and former chairman of Enron, died unexpectedly early this morning from an apparent heart attack.
The Pitkin, Colo., Sheriff's Department said they were called to Lay's vacation home in Old Snowmass, Colo., shortly after 1 a.m. He was taken to Aspen Valley Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 3:11 a.m., CBS News reported.
Lay was found guilty in May of six counts of conspiracy fraud in connection with the 2001 implosion of the Houston-based company that was considered a huge success story before its downfall into scandal.
Lay, along with former Enron president Jeffrey Skilling, was set to be sentenced on Oct. 23. Lay was facing a possible 45-year prison sentence. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) declined comment on the effect of Lay’s death on Skilling’s sentencing, Forbes reported.
However, David Irwin, a former federal prosecutor who is now a white-collar defense attorney in Towson, Md., told Bloomberg News that Lay's death will make it harder for the government to recover any ill-gotten gains. Government attorneys have said they believe Lay had $40 million of his fortune left, even though Lay testified that he was broke.
“Prior to his death, the government could just say: `Hand over $40 million,’ ” Irwin said. “Prosecutors are now going to have to show that individual assets they want to seize were bought with funds illegally received from Enron. It's going to be a lot more work for them now."
News of Lay’s death prompted a range of reactions.
Geoffrey Corn, assistant professor of law at South Texas College of Law in Houston, told MarketWatch: "People who have been victimized by his criminal conduct at least had the knowledge that his actions were adjudged to be guilty before he died. It's a chapter people really want to put behind them. I think they know they never will be made whole.”
"The lesson isn't that we were too rough on him, the lesson is that there are severe consequences for this kind of behavior," said Maryanne Jennings, a lawyer and professor of business and ethics at Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business. "I think it was just so overwhelming for him," she told MarketWatch.
Catherine Hodgson, one of thousands of Arthur Andersen employees who lost her job because of the Enron debacle, told the Sarasota Herald Tribune, “I’m shocked. That’s too bad, is all I would say. I would never wish ill health on anyone, no matter how bad.”