Judge queried on Lea Fastow move

Prosecutors seek explanation for rejection of 5-month jail term for wife of former Enron CFO

April 14, 2004|By Kristen Hays | Kristen Hays,Baltimoresun.com Staff

HOUSTON -- Prosecutors have asked a judge to explain his rejection of a plea agreement that would have guaranteed no more than five months in prison for the wife of former Enron Corp. finance chief Andrew Fastow.

U.S. District Judge David Hittner had not responded as of Wednesday to a Justice Department request or scheduled hearings to discuss his decision in Lea Fastow's case, which is set for a June 2 trial.

Linda Lacewell, a prosecutor with the Justice Department's Enron Task Force, asked for an explanation in a filing after last week's contentious hearing, "particularly since such reasons could aid the parties in determining whether there is a possible resolution short of trial."

Attorneys for both sides can continue trying to reach another plea deal until just before a verdict is rendered.

Last week Hittner rejected a plea agreement that would have bound him to impose a sentence of five months in prison and five months' home confinement.

Hittner said he wanted to consider the 10-16 months called for by federal sentencing guidelines and didn't want to be bound to the agreement.

Rather than accept whatever sentence Hittner deemed appropriate, Lea Fastow withdrew her guilty plea to a single tax fraud count. She now faces trial on six counts of conspiracy and filing false tax forms for helping her husband hide ill-gotten income.

Andrew Fastow's guilty plea to two counts of conspiracy stands, as does his agreement to cooperate with prosecutors and eventually serve 10 years in prison. He admitted running schemes to make Enron appear financially healthy while enriching himself on the side.

Lacewell had a terse exchange with Hittner during last week's hearing when she said the judge was legally required to explain the rejection. Hittner told Lacewell to back up her assertion by producing examples of other cases that required explanations. She couldn't do so at the time.

But Lacewell followed up with a filing noting a case in which the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees Houston, said rejections of plea agreements would be upheld if the basis for the decision was "reasonably apparent."

Originally published April 14, 2004, 2:37 PM EDT

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