HOUSTON – Former Enron top executive John C. Baxter has apparently committed suicide, Texas police reported Friday.
Sugar Land police said they discovered the 43-year-old Baxter, who went by the name Cliff, inside a vehicle parked between two medians in a residential neighborhood. He was found with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Baxter was dead at the scene and the sole occupant of the vehicle, police reported. A suicide note was found and there was no apparent sign of foul play, police said. Identification found in Baxter's wallet indicated he was an employee of Enron.
"We feel that it is a suicide, but we are taking all precautions that are necessary," Sgt. Truman Body said. He declined to divulge the contents of the note, saying that the investigation was still open despite the initial findings.
Jim Richard, a Fort Bend County justice of the peace, ruled Baxter's death a suicide. He ordered an autopsy as a precaution.
Baxter, a former vice chairman, resigned from the company in May 2001, but continued to work as a consultant for the energy giant, which declared bankruptcy in December, taking along with it thousands of shareholder and employees pension funds.
Enron released a short statement after news of Baxter's death was reported: "We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of our friend and colleague, Cliff Baxter. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends."
Baxter made $35.2 million off of the sale of nearly 600,000 shares of Enron stock. He was one of 29 former and current Enron executives and board members named as defendants in a federal lawsuit that claimed Enron executives made $1.1 billion by selling Enron stock between October 1998 and November 2001.
Upon his resignation, then-Enron president and CEO Jeff Skilling said, "His creativity, intelligence, sense of humor and straightforward manner have been assets to the company throughout his career. While we will miss him, we are happy that his primary reason for resigning is to spend additional time with his family, and we wish him the very best."
In the statement, the company also boasted revenues of $101 billion in 2000. Less than a year later, Enron reported third-quarter losses of $600 million, leading the Securities and Exchange Commission to launch an investigation into its accounting practices.
Skilling resigned in August citing personal reasons. Later that month, his successor Kenneth Lay received a written warning from Enron executive Sherron Watkins that cited Baxter by name.
"Cliff Baxter complained mightily to Skilling and all who would listen about the inappropriateness of our transactions with LJM," one of the partnerships that kept hundreds of millions of dollars in debt off Enron's books, Watkins wrote.
Her letter to Lay stated that "we will implode in a wave of accounting scandals" unless the company halted practices that eventually sent it into bankruptcy.
Enron declared bankruptcy on Dec. 2. Its sudden collapse led to investigations by several executive branch agencies, including the Justice Department, as well as inquiries by 11 congressional committees.
The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held the first of many congressional hearings Thursday, this one on document shredding that took place at Enron auditor Arthur Andersen. Enron has also admitted shredding documents.
Committee investigators spoke with Baxter's attorney as recently as Friday morning to see if they could arrange an interview to discuss Enron's activities.
According to Enron, Baxter, a native of Amityville, N.Y., received a bachelor's degree with honors from New York University and an MBA from Columbia University, where he was valedictorian.
He joined Enron in 1991 and was chairman and CEO of Enron North America prior to being named chief strategy officer for Enron Corp. in June 2000.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.