A former Enron Corp. (search) accountant described as "a principal architect" of a scheme to mislead investors and regulators turned himself in Thursday and pleaded innocent to federal fraud charges related to the energy giant's 2001 collapse.

Richard Causey (search), 44, entered his plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge Frances Stacy. He was released on $1 million bond, secured by $500,000 in cash provided by a brother-in-law.

• Click here to view the indictment against Causey (pdf).

• Click here to view the complaint against Causey.

When asked if he was employed, Causey replied: "I am not."

Causey, who surrendered to the FBI before daybreak Thursday and was taken to court in handcuffs, was described in a six-count indictment unsealed Thursday as "a principal architect and operator of the scheme to manipulate Enron's reported earnings." He was charged with securities fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud.

If convicted of all charges, Causey faces a maximum sentence of 55 years in prison and $5.25 million in fines.

Along with other Enron executives and senior managers, the indictment handed up Wednesday said, Causey "engaged in a wide-ranging scheme, through a variety of devices, to deceive the investing public about the true performance and profitability of Enron's businesses."

The document noted Causey reported to Enron's chairman and chief executive officer but did not name former Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay (search) or former CEO Jeffrey Skilling (search). Neither of them has been charged with any crime.

According to the indictment, the scheme's objectives, among other things, were to produce earnings that grew by 15 to 20 percent annually and meet or exceed "without fail" the published expectations of industry analysts while avoiding public reporting of large losses.

Causey's trial was set for March 8. Prosecutor Sam Buell estimated the trial would take three to six weeks.

Also Thursday, the Securities and Exchange Commission (search) filed a civil complaint accusing Causey of helping Enron file fraudulent information with the agency.

"Rick Causey is a decent, honorable and innocent man," said Mark Hulkower, his attorney. "He has done nothing, absolutely nothing, wrong. We will vigorously contest these charges and we look forward to the day when Mr. Causey's vindicated in this courthouse."

Causey had been expected to turn himself in and appear in federal court two weeks ago. But his case moved to the back burner when a plea bargain package for former Enron finance chief Andrew Fastow (search) and Fastow's wife, Lea, hit a snag.

Last week, the Fastows pleaded guilty in their separate cases — Andrew Fastow to two counts of conspiracy, Lea Fastow to one count of filing a false tax return. Those guilty pleas needed to be secured before moving on to Causey, sources close to the investigation said Wednesday on condition of anonymity.

Like Andrew Fastow, Causey reported directly to Lay and Skilling. Causey and Fastow split financial duties at Enron and were at the same management level.

Enron imploded in late 2001 in a sea of hidden debt, inflated profits and accounting tricks.

Causey was fired in February 2002 after an internal probe concluded he failed in his duty to adequately look out for Enron's interests when the energy giant did deals with Andrew Fastow's partnerships. He also invoked the Fifth Amendment and declined to answer questions when he appeared before a congressional committee that year.

"Richard Causey and the other corrupt executives that ran Enron into the ground used some of the most sophisticated tricks in the corporate fraud playbook to con the public into believing that Enron was a success," James B. Comey, a deputy attorney general, said in Washington.

Andrew Fastow's October 2002 indictment referred to the chief accounting officer as having a secret deal with Fastow ensuring he wouldn't lose money when one of many shady partnerships he ran did business with Enron. Causey was chief accounting officer when the partnerships were operating.

Andrew Fastow admitted that he and others in Enron's senior management misled investors about Enron's finances to inflate its stock and that he schemed to enrich himself and others at shareholders' expense.

Causey was one of many Enron executives who joined the energy giant after working at its former outside auditor, Arthur Andersen LLP. He started at Enron in 1991 as assistant controller and became chief accounting officer in 1999.

In a related case, lawyers for two of four former Merrill Lynch & Co. executives and two former midlevel Enron executives charged with conspiracy stemming from one of Andrew Fastow's shady deals said Wednesday their clients maintain their innocence and they intend to go to trial as scheduled in June.

The six former executives are charged with conspiracy for alleged involvement in a December 1999 deal in which a loan from Merrill Lynch was disguised as a sale of Nigerian barges so Enron could appear to have met earnings targets. Prosecutors say the executives knew the deal was a sham because Andrew Fastow secretly assured that Enron would buy back Merrill Lynch's interest in the barges within six months.