Enron chief has his jail sentence cut by 10 years

A FEDERAL judge has slashed 10 years off the prison sentence handed to former Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling, a decision that could set him free as early 2017.

US District Judge Simeon Lake reduced Skilling’s term to 14 years from 24 years, accepting a deal struck between prosecutors and Skilling’s lawyers that will end years of appeals.

Under the deal, more than $40m (£25.9m) of Skilling’s fortune, which has been frozen since his conviction in 2006, will be distributed to victims of Enron’s collapse.

“This is not an easy decision,” Lake told the hearing, before he acknowledged both the gravity of Skilling’s crimes and his charitable works in Houston, and in prison, where he reads to a blind inmate and teaches English and Spanish.

Skilling has also held a job fair offering advice to inmates who are about to be released.

In May 2006, a jury convicted Skilling of 19 counts of conspiracy, securities fraud, insider trading and lying to auditors for his role in maintaining a facade of success as Enron’s energy business crumbled.

Enron founder Kenneth Lay also was found guilty of multiple counts of conspiracy and fraud. He died of heart failure six weeks after the trial ended, prompting Lake to throw out the conviction.

“We are relieved that we can now see the light burning at the end of the tunnel,” Daniel Petrocelli, Skilling’s attorney told reporters after the hearing.

Skilling’s resentencing had been pending since 2009, when a federal appeals court ruled that Lake wrongly added years to his sentence because Skilling’s actions had jeopardised a financial institution.

In the interim his legal team pursued more appeals and sought a new trial, reaching the US Supreme Court in 2010.

Skilling still has the longest sentence of more than two dozen former Enron executives, including finance chief Andrew Fastow, and others who pleaded guilty or were convicted of Enron-related crimes. The others have all served their prison terms.