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Former Enron exec dies in apparent suicide

SUGAR LAND, Texas (CNN) -- Former Enron Corp. vice chairman J. Clifford Baxter was found dead in his car in a Houston suburb early Friday, the victim of an apparent suicide, police said.

Baxter made millions on the sale of Enron stock, but reportedly was unhappy with Enron's business practices and resigned as vice chairman in May. He had remained as an Enron consultant.

Enron, once a giant energy corporation, has collapsed in the biggest bankruptcy filing in U.S. history amid accusations of mishandling of funds and shredding of crucial documents. Enron and its accounting firm, Andersen LLP, are under congressional investigation.

Congressional sources told CNN that Baxter, 43, had been among several Enron officials that investigators had wanted to interview. And the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, led by Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, D-Michigan, had asked for documents from Baxter as part of a batch of subpoenas sent out January 11.

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J. Clifford Baxter and Enron
Baxter made a profit of $21,980,470 from selling more than 600,000 shares of Enron stock since October of 1998.

One of 29 former and current Enron executives and board members named as defendants in shareholder lawsuit.

Resigned as vice chairman in May of 2001, but continued working for Enron as a consultant.

Baxter "complained mightily to [then-Enron President and CEO Jeff] Skilling and all who would listen about the inappropriateness of our transactions with LJM (a limited partnership)," Enron Vice President Sherron Watkins wrote in August 2001.

In weeks before his death, Senate subcommittee subpoenaed Baxter documents and House committee investigators tried to arrange a meeting with him.

Police in Sugar Land said Baxter was found in his 2002 Mercedes Benz with a gunshot wound to the head at 2:23 a.m. Friday.

"He was discovered inside a vehicle parked between two medians," police spokeswoman Pat Whitty said. "A suicide note was found at the scene. There was no sign of foul play. Inside his wallet was an ID indicating he was an employee of Enron."

Baxter was among the Enron officers and directors who made massive profits cashing in on Enron stock options, netting nearly $22 million since October 1998, according to records of stock exchange transactions.

Thomson Market Strategies, a CNN consultant, said Baxter sold more than 600,000 shares of Enron on the open market during the period, including nearly 490,000 he had bought at bargain prices. The trades were often made on the same day, using options granted to him by Enron. His total profits, after deducting the cost of exercising options, was $21,980,470.

Watkins: Baxter unhappy with Enron deals

Baxter joined Enron in 1991. He was chairman and CEO of Enron North America before being named chief strategy officer for Enron in June 2000 and vice chairman in October 2000.

In a letter to then-Chairman Ken Lay, Enron Vice President Sherron Watkins said Baxter had been unhappy about Enron's dealings with one of its limited partnerships.

"Cliff Baxter complained mightily to [then-Enron President and CEO Jeff] Skilling and all who would listen about the inappropriateness of our transactions with LJM," Watkins wrote, referring to one of the partnerships linked to Enron's collapse last fall.

Watkins' lawyer, Philip Hilder, said Friday that she was "deeply saddened and stunned beyond belief" by Baxter's death.

"Mr. Baxter had the utmost integrity and she respected him immensely. Mrs. Watkins expresses her heartfelt sympathy and prayers to her family," Hilder said in a prepared statement.

In November, after Enron's troubles became public and its stock price collapsed, Baxter was named along with then-CEO Ken Lay and eight other senior company officials as defendants in a lawsuit filed by shareholders in U.S. District Court in Houston. The suit accuses Baxter and the others of conspiring to cover up Enron's financial troubles while profiting personally from an inflated stock price and concealing the true state of the company from other investors.

Baxter's last reported stock sale was January 31, 2001, when Enron stock was still selling at $80 a share, near its all-time high. The stock is now worth less than a dollar a share.

In a statement released to reporters, Enron said, "We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of our friend and colleague Cliff Baxter. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends."

Police did not disclose the contents of the suicide note found with Baxter. Authorities in Sugar Land said they found a .38 caliber revolver, registered to Baxter, in his car, and the local justice of the peace has ordered an autopsy.

-- CNN Correspondent Alan Chernoff contributed to this report.




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