Juxtaposition: Criminal behavior

One made hundreds of millions of dollars running complicated financial scams and played a major role in the California energy crisis of 2000. The other is a nun who spent 40 years as a schoolteacher in western Africa before becoming an active opponent of nuclear weapons.

Both have been convicted in federal court.

Now, one is about to have his sentence reduced. The other is awaiting sentencing, facing a maximum of 20 years.

Enron’s Jeff Skilling may be released more than 10 years early

“Former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling may leave prison by 2017,” Scott Cohn, CNBC, May 8, 2013:

Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling would be out of prison in 2017—more than 10 years early—under a proposed sentencing agreement submitted to a federal judge in Houston on Wednesday.

Under the agreement, which could be finalized within weeks, Skilling would give up all of his remaining rights to appeal, and his 2006 convictions on 19 criminal counts would stand.

It seems that at least part of the motivation is freeing up $40 million dollars for “restitution”:

“Today’s agreement will put an end to the legal battles surrounding this case,” said Peter Carr, Justice Department spokesman. “Mr. Skilling will no longer be permitted to challenge his conviction for one of the most notorious frauds in American history, and victims of his crime will finally receive the more than $40 million in restitution they are owed. This agreement ensures that Mr. Skilling will be appropriately punished for his crimes and that victims will finally receive the restitution they deserve.”

Enron’s criminal fraud

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, masterminded by Skilling and his predecessor, Ken Lay, wiped out billions of dollars in wealth – the Enron bankruptcy left more than 4,000 without jobs and stuck with worthless pension funds, and left stockholders and other creditors holding the bag. Their “auditors” at Arthur Andersen were never able to recover, leading to the dissolution of one of the Big Five accounting firms – and another 85,000 jobs lost.

Nuclear protestors face 20 years in prison after conviction

“Nun, protesters guilty in nuclear plant break-in,” Erik Schelzig, Associated Press, May 8, 2013:

An 83-year-old nun and two fellow protesters were convicted Wednesday of interfering with national security when they broke into the primary storehouse for bomb-grade uranium in the U.S.

It took the jury about 2 ½ hours to find the three protesters guilty of a charge of interfering with national security and a second charge of damaging federal property.

Sister Megan Rice – along with Transform Now Plowshares members Michael Walli, 63, and Greg Boertje-Obed, 57 – faces up to 20 years in prison for using wire cutters to break into the “secure” Y–12 nuclear facility and spreading blood, crime tape, and banners on a newly-constructed building.

The protesters’ attorneys noted that once they refused to plead guilty to trespassing, prosecutors substituted that charge with the sabotage count that increased the maximum prison term from one year to 20 years. The other charge of damaging federal property carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.

According to a New York Times profile of Sister Rice, she’s been arrested “40 or 50 times”, and once spent 6 months in federal prison.

Unlike the protestor’s attorneys, I don’t think that the government is pursuing them solely out of embarrassment. Sister Rice’s actions drew attention to our ongoing civic scandal of unaccountable private contractors in mission-critical government functions, as well as reminding us that the US is still pursuing a deeply problematic, morally troubling nuclear weapons program. And in that sense, she’s a real threat to the United States.

After all, there’s a new Jeff Skilling nearly every day – Skilling’s record for causing the largest bankruptcy didn’t last a year before Bernie Ebbers’ WorldCom took the crown. And since 2008, the kings of the big investment “banks” on Wall Street have made Ebbers and Skilling and the rest look like provincial, small-time con artists. Skilling’s ham-fisted attempts to short-circuit capitalism were never a real threat, just a bump in the road. But Sister Rice is different – there’s not many like her. And if she gets her way, we might have to change ours.