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Enron: The Tale of Two Sentencings

The surprisingly lenient prison sentence given recently to Enron Corp. former Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow highlights the benefits of cooperating with federal criminal authorities. The coming sentencing of former Enron President Jeffrey Skilling is likely to demonstrate the dangers of fighting them.

Mr. Fastow’s six-year prison sentence came after the disgraced executive helped federal prosecutors nab others at Enron, including Mr. Skilling — who was convicted, along with former company chairman Kenneth Lay, on conspiracy and fraud charges this year. Mr. Fastow was one of the government’s main witnesses in that four-month trial.

Mr. Skilling, by contrast, fought the government with a defense effort that cost tens of millions of dollars. He has vowed to appeal his conviction on 19 counts and has asked the court to let him remain free pending his appeal. The 52-year-old Mr. Skilling is scheduled to be sentenced Monday by Judge Sim Lake and observers believe that he could get in the range of 20 years imprisonment. (Mr. Lay died several weeks after the trial of heart-related problems; this week his conviction was vacated, under established law that wipes away convictions for defendants who die before appeal.)

The likely discrepancy in prison terms for Messrs. Fastow and Skilling, widely considered to be two of the central figures of the Enron scandal, illustrates that there has never been a better time in the white-collar-crime world to rat on your colleagues.