Enron founder Ken Lay dead of heart attack

Enron founder Ken Lay dead of heart attack

By Matt Daily
Wednesday, July 5, 2006; 12:29 PM

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Enron Corp. founder Ken Lay died of a heart attack on Wednesday, six weeks after being found guilty of fraud in one of the biggest corporate scandals in U.S. history.

Lay, 64, was awaiting sentencing later this year and was expected to face decades in prison for his fraud and conspiracy convictions in the Enron collapse.

“Ken Lay passed away early this morning,” Lay family spokeswoman Kelly Kimberly said in a statement.

Lay and another former Enron CEO, Jeffrey Skilling, were found guilty of hiding the financial ruin at Enron, the company they built into the seventh largest in the United States. Enron plunged into bankruptcy in December 2001.

Lay, once a confidant of former President George H.W. Bush and dubbed “Kenny boy” by President George W. Bush, often appeared fatigued during the four-month trial, but there was no indication that he had suffered any adverse health effects.

“I guess you could say in the last few years I’ve achieved the American nightmare,” Lay told the jury from the witness stand during the trial.

Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies and an ambulance were dispatched to the Lay vacation home in Old Snowmass, Colorado, early Wednesday morning and transported him to Aspen Valley Hospital. He was pronounced dead there shortly after 3 a.m. Mountain time (0900 GMT).

“A coroner’s autopsy is pending. There will be no further information or press release from this office until autopsy results are available later this week,” the county said in a statement.

On Friday, federal prosecutors asked a federal judge to force Lay to pay $43.5 million they said he had received because of his crimes at Enron.

Both Lay and Skilling had maintained they were innocent of any crimes at Enron, and both had planned to appeal the guilty verdicts.

Lay, whose wealth at one time totaled more than $100 million, claimed he had little money left after the Enron bankruptcy, although prosecutors have said he still had millions in annuities and other investments.

Enron began as a quiet pipeline company under Lay’s guidance in 1985 and grew quickly into an international energy powerhouse before it imploded in a wave of accounting scandals.

Enron became the most infamous financial scandal in decades, as images were beamed around the globe of thousands of sacked employees carrying their possessions past the company’s crooked “E” logo outside its gleaming office tower in downtown Houston.

Lay basked in the limelight of his adopted hometown and was a fixture on the charity circuit, donating millions of his own money and Enron’s funds.

Following his indictment, he was rarely seen in public, usually only on Sunday mornings as he attended church services.

Born into poverty as the son of a Baptist preacher in Missouri, Lay excelled in school and advanced quickly in the worlds of government and business before taking the helm of the company that would become Enron.

Lay is survived by his wife, Linda, five children and step-children and 12 grandchildren. Information on funeral arrangements had not yet been announced.

(Additional reporting by Bruce Nichols, Jeff Franks and Eileen O’Grady)