Report: Andersen May Plead Guilty

Beleaguered accounting firm Andersen and the U.S. Justice Department are discussing a guilty plea involving Andersen's destruction of documents related to its audits of bankrupt energy giant Enron Corp., the Chicago Tribune reported Friday, citing unnamed sources. 

Under discussion is whether Chicago-based Andersen will plead guilty to criminal charges related to shredding Enron-related documents, the newspaper said, citing the sources. 

While the final outcome has yet to be determined, the paper quoted one source with knowledge of the discussions as saying a resolution of the talks could come "within a matter of several days." 

An Andersen spokesman declined to comment on the Tribune report. 

Andersen, the embattled Big Five accounting firm headquartered in Chicago, had been the auditor for Enron until it was fired in January. Andersen disclosed on Jan. 15 that its staff had destroyed thousands of records relating to its audits of Enron. 

The firm blamed employees in its Houston office and said some of the destruction might have occurred after Houston staff learned of a request by the Securities and Exchange Commission for information on Enron's audits, the Tribune reported. 

News of the talks came as Delta Air Lines Inc. became the third high-profile client in the past week to dump Andersen as an auditor. In all Andersen has seen more than 30 of its clients -- including five that are among the 20 biggest companies on its client roster --defect to other accounting firms in the wake of the Enron scandal.

The discussions also coincide with a separate allegation in a lawsuit pending against Andersen that document destruction at the firm was orchestrated with the knowledge of the Chicago head office.

Federal law enforcement officials told Reuters on Thursday that the Justice Department is seriously considering bringing criminal charges against Andersen.

Enron filed the largest-ever U.S. bankruptcy on Dec. 2 amid questions over its accounting methods and the role of extensive off-the-books partnerships. 

Its collapse has cost thousands of jobs and lost billions of dollars in shareholder equity.

Reuters contributed to this report.