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Enron fraudster Lay dies

Former Enron executives faced 25 to 40 years behind bars

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Kenneth Lay meeting reporters outside the courthouse earlier this year.

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(CNN) -- Enron founder and convicted fraudster Ken Lay has died of a massive heart attack at his holiday home in Aspen, Colorado.

Lay was awaiting sentencing for fraud and conspiracy convictions stemming from his role in the energy giant's dramatic collapse in 2001.

The company's bankruptcy nearly five years ago shocked a nation and changed forever the way the United States does business.

The 64-year-old died early Wednesday after being taken to a hospital near his mountain home. Dr. Robert Kurtzman, the forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy in Grand Junction, Colorado, said there was no evidence of foul play in his death.

"The post-mortem examination revealed that Mr. Lay had severe coronary artery disease," Kurtzman said. "There was evidence that he had a heart attack in the past."

Lay was pronounced dead at 3:11 a.m. Wednesday, according to the Pitkin County Sheriff's Department. His pastor, Dr. Steve Wende, of Houston's First United Methodist Church, told reporters earlier that Lay "suffered a massive coronary and died" while spending a week in Aspen with his wife, Linda.

"Apparently, his heart simply gave out," Wende said.

Lay was scheduled for sentencing on October 23 after his May conviction on 10 counts of fraud and conspiracy related to the collapse of the company he founded. He and Enron's former chief executive, Jeffrey Skilling, faced 25 to 40 years behind bars, legal experts said.

Skilling was found guilty of conspiracy, fraud, making false statements and insider trading in the case.

Under Lay's hand, Enron grew into the nation's seventh-largest company before imploding in an accounting scandal in 2001. Lay was accused of lying to investors and Wall Street about the company's health even as he enriched himself by selling millions of dollars in stock.

The company filed for bankruptcy in December 2001 after investigators found it used off-the-books partnerships to inflate profits and conceal more than $1 billion in debt.

Its downfall cost 4,000 employees their jobs and many of them their life savings, and led to billions of dollars of losses for investors.

Fall from grace

It was an astounding fall from grace for the Houston businessman U.S. President George W. Bush once nicknamed "Kenny Boy."

Enron and its executives were the leading contributors to Bush's campaigns for Texas governor and president, donating more than $600,000.

Bush named Lay to his presidential transition team after winning the presidency in 2000 -- but when the company collapsed, the White House quickly tried to distance the president from Lay.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said Wednesday that Lay was an "acquaintance," not a friend, of the president, "and many of the president's acquaintances have passed on during his time in office."

"I really haven't talked to him about it," Snow said. "I'll give you my own personal reaction, which is that when somebody dies, you leave behind those who grieve, and I think they deserve our compassion."

Enron's collapse was the first of the high-profile corporate scandals that later rocked WorldCom, Global Crossing, Adelphia and Tyco. The wave of fraud led to the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation meant to tighten oversight of how American companies were audited.

The U.S. Justice Department had no comment in reaction to news of Lay's death.

CNNMoney.com's Shaheen Pasha contributed to this report

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