Lea Fastow’s Plea Deal Rejected by Judge

A judge’s decision not to accept a plea agreement with Lea Fastow may jeopardize the government’s agreement with her husband, former Enron Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow.

U.S. District Court Judge David Hittner rejected a sentence for Lea Fastow that would have included five months in prison and five months of home confinement, which defense attorney suggested and prosecutors supported. The Fastows had made this a critical part of the deal so that one of them could remain at home with their young children. Hittner prefers a sentence more in the range of 10 to 16 months and took the unusual step yesterday of rejecting the plea deal.

Attorneys for both sides asked to address the court but were shut down by the judge, who set a June 2 trial date for Lea Fastow.

Prosecutor Linda Lacewell told the judge he had to give a reason for rejecting the sentencing agreement, the Associated Press reported.

"You say I have to give additional reasons? Show me? Give me your cases right now?" Judge Hittner told her. Lacewell said she didn't have her research with her because she had never before had a judge reject a plea, the AP reported.

Defense attorneys were equally astounded by the judge’s move. "I am going to have to go back to the drawing board and think about this," Mike DeGeurin, attorney for Lea Fastow told reporters outside the courthouse. "I think that due process was in jeopardy by not allowing the thoughts of counsel to be expressed," DeGeurin said. The judge "articulated that his reasoning was that he did not want to be bound by an agreement. The agreement to plead guilty and resolve all of these matters at once included an agreed sentence. It resolved a lot of matters."

Lea Fastow pleaded guilty late last year to charges that she helped her husband hide the money he had obtained illegally through his dealings with Enron. Experts offer differing opinions as to whether yesterday’s events put Andrew Fastow’s plea agreement in jeopardy.

Andrew Weissmann, director of the Justice Department's Enron Task Force, said of Mrs. Fastow's plea withdrawal and her husband's plea: "They're not linked in any way," the AP reported

Yet a former federal prosecutor and expert in white-collar crime, Robert Mintz, said it all depends on the specifics of the agreements. "If there clearly was an expectation on the part of Andrew Fastow that he thought his wife would receive the sentence that the government was offering, that could be grounds for him to withdraw his plea as well," Mintz told the AP.

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