HOUSTON – Former Enron Corp. CEO Kenneth Lay's decision not to testify before Congress left former employees wondering when their onetime boss will explain the company's stunning collapse that left them jobless.
Many had planned get-togethers to watch Lay's testimony, and said they were disappointed that his public silence will continue.
"I think it's a shame that he can't say anything," said Sue Nix, a former Enron accountant. "I just feel like this is really letting everybody down now."
John Moore, who had worked for Enron's pipeline business since the company was formed in 1985, had planned to hold a party for Lay's Monday morning testimony before the House Financial Services Committee. He was disappointed Sunday to learn that Lay had opted out on the advice of his attorney.
"He owes us a public statement in a public forum and something that's not so legally crafted," Moore said. "Why not just come out and tell the truth and get it over with? This is just legal maneuvering."
Others expressed similar sentiments, wondering why Lay couldn't ignore legal advice and address the company's downfall and its devastating effect on employees, particularly those who lost 401(k)s loaded with Enron stock.
"We're not afraid to talk about how we were affected by it," said Rebekah Rushing, a former employee who is managing a fund to help former employees pay bills and mortgages. "I don't understand why he can't go ahead and testify."
Nix said workers want an explanation from the man who assured workers that the company was strong even after it had entered its downward spiral last year.
"Why did he lie to us and tell us everything was just great when it was not?" she said. "People can accept the truth. The constant lies are what is hard."
Lay's wife, Linda, said last week on NBC's Today that he had done nothing wrong in relation to his company's collapse. Lay has resigned from several boards, including those of Compaq Computer Corp. and Eli Lilly & Co. Organizers of the World Economic Forum removed him from the agenda.
Enron, once No. 7 on the Fortune 500, crashed last year after restating earnings that erased profits dating back to 1997.
Lay had volunteered to appear at Monday's hearings and had been given no immunity. There was no indication whether the committees would subpoena him.
Lay's attorney, Earl Silbert, said in letters to the committees that remarks by various members of Congress on Sunday talk shows demonstrated that judgments had been reached and "the tenor of the hearing will be prosecutorial."
The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the collapse, and the Justice Department is in the midst of a criminal probe.
Lay also is being sued by employees and shareholders in lawsuits filed against Enron officials, including several seeking money the executives gained by selling stock before the company crashed. Lay sold $101 million in shares from October 1998 through November last year.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson and a group of 10 ex-Enron employees chose not to cancel a trip to Washington from Houston for the hearings. Other former executives, including Jeff Skilling, former chief executive,and Andrew Fastow, former chief financial officer, were scheduled to appear Thursday.
"His pulling out suggests a tactical maneuver by his lawyers," Jackson said Sunday. "It can only prolong the inevitable fact he must come to Washington to testify either voluntarily or by subpoena. Delaying tactics intensify the crises."