A plea agreement between prosecutors and former Enron chief financial officer Andrew S. Fastow appeared doubtful Friday after a judge failed to accept a five-month jail term as part of the plea agreement for Fastow's wife Lea.
Fastow had made his plea bargain contingent on his wife's deal to serve the five-month sentence for filing a false tax return, but Judge David Hittner of Federal District Court in Houston would not commit to that short a sentence, the New York Times reported.
Lea Fastow, a former Enron assistant treasurer, then walked away from the deal to avoid the possibility of more jail time. She sought a five-month sentence that would not overlap with her husband's prison time so their two sons would not be left without parental care.
Negotiations were set to continue over the weekend, but Lea Fastow's Feb. 10 trial is still set to go forward. With no deal, she could face up to four years in prison if she is convicted of six counts of conspiracy and filing false tax returns.
The Financial Times of London reported that the Fastow plea has sparked debate over whether the couple is getting special treatment. "I think they're bending over backwards for the Fastows," Thomas Ajamie, a civil litigator in Houston, said. "Every day husbands and wives go to prison. There is nothing in normal judicial practice that allows the judicial process to take into account [the fact that] a criminal has a family."
Earlier last week, prosecutors seemed close to a major break in the case, as Andrew Fastow had agreed to plead guilty and serve 10 years in prison in exchange for testimony against co-workers. Fastow is a key figure in the Enron accounting scandal â he faces 98 counts of fraud â and prosecutors are hoping his information will lead to criminal charges against top executives Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey K. Skilling.