It is usually counter-productive for me to check out the HuffPo because I fundamentally disagree with just about every sentiment expressed in that liberal fever swamp. Today was par for the course, but Enron was mentioned. I had to chime in.
At HuffPo, a writer is screaming for more regulation and wondering why more bankers are not in prison for the 2008 financial meltdown. The reason is simple: the bankers were making home loans available to anyone regardless of whether they would be paid back – as was dictated under the Community Reinvestment Act. The people who enacted that are in congress and congress will not indict themselves.
So the writer quotes – of all people – Loren Steffy, who has made a career out of hating business and Enron in particular:
Three years ago, I asked Sam Buell, the former federal prosecutor in the government’s effort to indict Enron’s Jeff Skilling, the question of whether we’d see widespread prosecutions from the financial crisis. His prediction: Don’t count on it. As I wrote at the time:
In the current crisis, few people understood the complex debt instruments that had become common on Wall Street and therefore the firms failed to make good risk assessments. But what they were doing — such as packaging dodgy mortgages into investment pools that were supposed to minimize risk — was widely known.
“It’s not a conspiracy if everybody’s in on it,” Buell said. “In order to have a fraud conspiracy you’ve got to have some effort by one group to deceived another group.”
But what about the fact that America as whole seems deceived by what happened? Doesn’t matter, Buell argues. Just because Main Street didn’t understand what was happening doesn’t make it a fraud. Those who are stand-ins for investor interest — regulators, brokers, credit agencies — “seem to have known what was going on,” he said.
Sometimes I am actually embarrassed for Loren Steffy. I have said stupid things too, but usually I try to keep them to a minimum. Steffy, on the other hand, proudly flaunts his stupidity like a badge of honor.
That question: “what about the fact that America as a whole seems deceived by what happened?” is just embarrassingly inane.
If that were the standard, incidentally, we would not have a federal government, particularly a Department of Defense. The ignorance of the general populous does not create the legal grounds for conspiracy – not even for the much-despised Enron.
Buell is right, of course. There was no group of people inside Enron who were trying to deceive anyone else. I’ve always marveled that according to the naysayers, Enron managed to hire people from the mailroom to the C-Suite who were criminals. Oh, and they also did business with criminals: NatWest, Merrill Lynch, Vinson & Elkins, Arthur Andersen, Citigroup and McKinsey. And Ken Rice was actually involved in two conspiracies! One in Corporate and one at EBS. And Scott Yeager was so deceptive that he not only fooled everyone at EBS, he managed to fool Jeff Skilling too! And Jeff Skilling was also involved in a conspiracy!
How exactly is this supposed to work? How was Enron able to not only hire a statistically impossible number of criminals, but also just happen to find all the other criminals in its partner organizations? Only five people went to prison for the Watergate scandal (seven were indicted). And yet, eighteen went to prison for Enron – 36 were indicted. Was Enron really that much larger than Watergate? How was it that all these smaller conspiracies were taking place inside this much larger conspiracy? The EBS conspiracy is just ridiculous. Rex Shelby, Joe Hirko and Scott Yeager didn’t know each other outside of work. Rex and Scott had worked on one project before. But why would they agree to conspire illegally with Joe Hirko, who neither one knew? And why would Joe Hirko, who is known as a gentle, kind man decide to start fucking over Enron?
At Corporate, the conspiracies are just absurd. Jeff Skilling supposedly took reserves and added it to the earnings – while at the same time hiding earnings from wholesale. Why? If Enron was in trouble, there were thousands of things he could do to fix it. Such as start cutting costs. But during that time, Enron was buying new jets. If there was a problem, they could have delayed delivery. Jeff could have written a check for millions and laundered it through Andy Fastow and his SPEs, since that’s what the DOJ says happened at Southampton with Ben Glisan, Kristina Mordaunt, and the NatWest bankers. If he and Andy Fastow were already committing multiple felonies every day, what is one more? Why not just make up the loss with a personal check? Or he could have even done it openly and bought some of Enron’s art*. Yet the man who supposedly thought up all kinds of crazy scams just didn’t bother to anything wacky to fix this supposed earnings gap, other than take reserves which was possibly the sloppiest method known to mankind.
The idea that a bunch of smart guys who were already multimillionaires got together and then started conspiring to commit fraud is just laughable. It makes no sense at all. There was no fraud or conspiracy at Enron Corporation.
*There was a story in, I think, 2007 or 2008 where a company declared in its 10-K that the CEO had bought some art from the company and had paid something like $5 million for it. I wish I could find the details, but it was on footnoted.com, which has become a Morningstar company and I can no longer find it.