Enron Suicide Overshadows Andersen's Finger-Pointing
J. Clifford Baxter, 43, a former Enron vice chairman, was found dead in his parked car last Friday morning, accompanied by a revolver and a suicide note. Although it is assumed that Mr. Baxter's death is a suicide, a final decision on the cause of death will be made after an autopsy is performed on Monday.
Mr. Baxter was intimately aware of and disdainful of the questionable financial practices of the energy giant and resigned from the company last May. Mr. Baxter was among 29 Enron executives who have been subpoenaed to testify regarding Enron's collapse, and Mr. Baxter has been repeatedly mentioned in Congressional hearings as someone who understood Enron's complex financial structure in which debts and losses were hidden in hundreds of subsidiaries. According to a letter written by Enron executive Sherron Watkins to company chairman Kenneth Lay, "Cliff Baxter complained mightily to (then-CEO-Jeff) Skilling and all who would listen about the inappropriateness of our transactions."
The suicide note contained the comment that Mr. Baxter couldn't stand the pain of the scandal. The rest of the contents of the note have not yet been released to the public, but it is possible that the contents of the note could become vital evidence in the search for those responsible for Enron's downfall.
Andersen Lets Blame Fall on Duncan
Big Five firm and Enron auditor Andersen sent a partner and a director to testify before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce last week. The two accounting professionals, Managing Partner for Andersen's global audit practice C.E. Andrews and Managing Director for Assurance Professional Standards Group Dorsey L. Baskin, testified that David Duncan, former Andersen partner in charge of the Enron engagement, "organized an expedited effort to shred or otherwise dispose of Enron-related documents. This effort was undertaken without any consultation with others in the firm or, so far as we are aware, with legal counsel."
The two Andersen representatives described a scenario in which Mr. Duncan, responding to notice that the SEC had requested information from Enron regarding its financial accounting and reporting, ordered the destruction of a "very substantial volume of documents and e-mails."
In a general statement about the hearing, Andersen reaffirmed its regret for the "disturbing actions of several of its employees on the Enron engagement" and indicated its willingness to "continue to take responsibility for the errors and lack of good judgment demonstrated by individuals on its Enron engagement."