Rex Shelby’s father was a real American hero, a veteran of World War II, the Berlin Airlift, and the Korean War. Among other awards, he received the Sliver Star, the Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart. Rex, himself, received the Meritorious Service Medal during his tour of duty in the U.S. Air Force. The Shelbys were a patriotic family with roots all the way back to the founding of the USA — Isaac Shelby was one of the heroes of the American Revolutionary War, helping to lead the “Overmountain Men” to a victory over the British in the Battle of King’s Mountain in 1780, often cited as a turning point in the American War for Independence.
On a late afternoon in May of 2003, Rex Shelby, who lived in Houston, was at a hospital in Knoxville, Tennessee where his father was being prepped for surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm — the surgery was scheduled for the next morning. Rex’s father was in his 80s and had undergone open-heart surgery a few years earlier, so surgery of any kind was a major risk for him. Rex, his mother, and his three sisters were all in Knoxville for the surgery.
As Rex Shelby was sitting in the hospital waiting room, he received a call from an attorney who told Rex that he had just been indicted by the Department of Justice (DOJ) on 20 counts of criminal wrongdoing related to his time at Enron Broadband Services (EBS). This came as a complete shock to Rex, a software entrepreneur who had ended up at EBS when his small software company was acquired by Enron. Rex had been interviewed by the FBI about a year earlier, but the agents had (falsely) told him that he was not a target of the DOJ — Rex had freely talked with the FBI without a lawyer — as an innocent man, it never occurred to Rex that he would need an attorney. None of the federal prosecutors on the Enron Task Force (ETF) had ever talked with Rex, even though Rex had offered multiple times to talk with them, with or without an attorney. Rex assumed that no honorable prosecutor would accuse him of a crime without talking with him in person — I guess he did not realize that, in prosecutor John Kroger, he was facing a man without honor.
I try to imagine what this must have been like for Rex Shelby. As I have said before, Rex is perhaps the most obviously innocent person in a group of innocent defendants. As the attorney read parts of the indictment over the phone to Rex, I hear that Rex and his attorney were baffled — the charges made no sense — the indictment was vague, even amorphous, with little factual backup for the charges. Rex had already written, immediately after his earlier FBI interview, that the agents were ignorant about the EBS technology and business — he now assumed that the ETF prosecutors were equally clueless and that he would have a battle on his hands to straighten them out. But the battle would need to wait until he saw his father through the surgery.
Complications arose in the surgery of Rex Shelby’s father. After the surgery, Rex’s father remained in the intensive care unit (ICU) for several weeks. Rex and his sisters took turns so that someone was by the bedside as much as the hospital staff would allow. Rex took the night shift, staying in his father’s hospital room at night for those many weeks — he only missed one night by his father’s side when he dashed to Houston for his formal arraignment on the EBS charges.
Rex Shelby’s father was kept sedated to help in his recovery — as a result, it was almost as if Rex’s father was in a coma. The hospital staff began to prepare Rex and the rest of the family for the likelihood that his father would die in the hospital. Rex did not buy that prognosis — he had seen signs that his father wanted to fight. Rex asked the hospital staff if they could try to wean his father off the sedation drugs. As the drug dosage was reduced, Rex’s father became more lucid — within a few days, he was sitting up and talking, even joking with the hospital staff. The hospital staff considered this to be a miracle — Rex simply thought of it as a result of his father’s normal resilience and fighting spirit.
With his father out of danger, Rex Shelby was now able to turn his attention to the false charges against him. Rex, as feisty as his father, went on to wage an epic eight-year battle against the DOJ, defeating wave after wave of federal prosecutors and their staff. As Rex Shelby’s heroic father had been an example to him, so Rex’s fight should be an example to us all.
If you have not paid attention to the abuses of the federal government in the Enron cases, why not start today, on this Veteran’s Day?!