HOUSTON – A former Enron Corp. executive who reportedly protested the company's questionable accounting practices and warned of a scandal committed suicide on Friday, a coroner confirmed Saturday.
J. Clifford Baxter, 43, was found dead in a Mercedes-Benz parked on a median near his home in the wealthy Houston suburb of Sugar Land. A suicide note and a .38-caliber revolver were found at this side, according to police. The contents of the note were not disclosed.
Baxter, who resigned as vice chairman in May, had reportedly challenged the Enron's accounting practices almost a year before it plummeted into bankruptcy.
An alarming warning that another Enron executive sent to company Chairman and Chief Executive Kenneth Lay in August about questionable financial practices named Baxter.
"Cliff Baxter complained mightily to (then-CEO Jeff) Skilling and all who would listen about the inappropriateness of our transactions with LJM," Sherron Watkins wrote. LJM is one of the partnerships apparently used to keep a half-billion dollars in losses off Enron's books.
The same letter warned, "we will implode in a wave of accounting scandals" unless Enron changes its practices.
Baxter, 43, left Enron several months before the company collapsed in the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history. The contents of the suicide note were not disclosed and his death was ruled a suicide.
Enron's sudden downfall and financial practices are now under investigation by federal prosecutors, the FBI, securities regulators and 11 congressional committees. Lay, a focus of the investigations and one of President Bush's strongest supporters, resigned this week.
Even though Watkins' note showed that Baxter had questioned Enron's accounting practices, he still faced questions in the investigation and was named in a shareholder lawsuit.
The lawsuit allege that 29 people made $1.1 billion by selling Enron stock between October 1998 and November 2001. It says Baxter had sold 577,436 shares for $35.2 million before the company's collapse.
Thousands of Enron workers lost their jobs and watched their retirement savings all but evaporate after the company disclosed its losses and the value of Enron stock plummeted.
"I have no inkling whether the unfortunate event had anything to do with the investigation," said Baxter's attorney, Michael Levy.
With their home under guard by four police officers, Baxter's family released a statement Friday pleading for privacy.
"We are suffering the loss of our beloved husband, father and friend and respectfully wish not to be disturbed at this time," the statement said.
Enron released a statement Friday, saying, "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."
Enron spokesman Mark Palmer had no additional comment.
When Baxter resigned from Enron, the company said his primary motive was to spend more time with his family. Skilling said then that "his creativity, intelligence, sense of humor and straightforward manner have been assets to the company throughout his career."
Baxter was born in Amityville, N.Y., and graduated from New York University. He was a captain in the Air Force from 1980 to 1985 and received an MBA in 1987 from Columbia University, where he was valedictorian, according to the company.
Baxter joined Enron in 1991. He was chairman and CEO of Enron North America, which encompassed Enron's energy trading operation, before being named chief strategy officer and then vice chairman of Enron Corp., the company said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.