HOUSTON – Former Enron Corp. (search) finance chief Andrew Fastow (search) is negotiating a plea bargain that could send the high-powered executive to prison for his role in the accounting scandal that brought down the energy company, sources close to the case said Wednesday.
However, another source familiar with the matter said a potential agreement for Fastow to pay at least $20 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission (search) and his plea bargain is contingent upon reaching a separate plea deal for his wife, Lea, who rose to the rank of assistant treasurer at Enron before quitting in 1997.
U.S. District Judge David Hittner, who is presiding over Lea Fastow's case, on Wednesday afternoon rejected a plea deal that would have called for her to serve five months in prison. The judge said he wanted more leeway on her sentence.
Andrew Fastow's plea deal, if finalized, would go before U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt.
Attorneys on both sides could revise a proposed deal for Lea Fastow, but 250 jurors remain scheduled to be at the federal courthouse in Houston Thursday morning to fill out questionnaires to see if they are fit to serve in her Feb. 10 trial.
Authorities also were drawing up criminal charges against Enron's former chief accountant, Richard A. Causey, but backed off plans for him to surrender as early as Thursday, sources with knowledge of the matter told The Associated Press. He could surrender Friday instead, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The exact nature of the complaint was not immediately clear.
If attorneys and judges agree on the proposed plea deal with Andrew Fastow, the former executive could appear in court to change his innocent plea to guilty as early as Thursday, the sources said.
Fastow would be the highest-ranking executive to plead guilty in the criminal investigation of Enron. The company's collapse into bankruptcy in 2001 was the first in a series of scandals that rattled corporate America and caused the stock market to plunge.
Fastow allegedly masterminded a complex web of schemes that hid Enron's debt, inflated profits and allowed him to skim millions of dollars for himself, his family and selected friends and colleagues. Prosecutors say Fastow reaped an estimated $30 million from the partnerships.
The potential plea deal raises the possibility that prosecutors are closer to bringing a case against Enron's former top executives, Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling. Plea deals often involve agreements to testify against others, but there was no immediate indication whether that was happening in this case.
Skilling and Lay have not been charged and both maintain their innocence in Enron's demise.
The Houston Chronicle, citing sources it did not identify, reported Wednesday that federal prosecutors are offering Fastow a 10-year sentence.
Attorneys for the Fastows did not return calls seeking comment. The family's spokesman, Gordon Andrew, declined comment.
Fastow, 42, is charged with 98 counts of fraud, money laundering, insider trading and other charges. He is free on $5 million bond pending trial scheduled for April.
Lea Fastow, 42, is set to go to trial Feb. 10 on six counts of conspiracy and filing false tax forms.
Causey, 43, was fired Feb. 14, 2002, after a board of directors report noted his failure to properly monitor a partnership that became a focal point of the fraud investigation. The partnership, called LJM, was devised by Andrew Fastow, and prosecutors say it was used to conduct sham transactions to fraudulently improve Enron's books and enrich Fastow and others.
Causey's attorney, Reid Weingarten, did not immediately return a call.