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Ex-Enron chief gets 24 years

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HOUSTON, Texas (CNNMoney.com) -- Former Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling, who gained infamy as the man who orchestrated one of the largest corporate frauds in history, has been sentenced to more than 24 years in prison.

Skilling stood stoically, his hands clasped before him, as presiding Judge Sim Lake handed down his sentence.

His wife Rebecca, however, sobbed quietly in her seat as victims of Enron's collapse watched the proceedings stone-faced.

Lake ordered Skilling to be fitted with an ankle bracelet and to remain under house arrest until the Bureau of Prisons determined his date of incarceration. He denied the government's motion for Skilling to be taken into custody immediately.

Lake also denied defense attorney Daniel Petrocelli's request to lower the sentence by 10 months so that Skilling could serve it in a lower-security penitentiary.

Instead, Lake recommended that Skilling serve his sentence at a Federal Bureau of Prisons facility in Butner, N.C.

Outside the courthouse, Skilling, 52, appeared before reporters, accompanied by one of his lawyers.

"Obviously, I'm disappointed in the sentence," he said, adding that he plans to appeal it. But he was not critical of Lake. "He's a fair guy," the father of three children said. "I don't fault the judge for anything he did today."

Skilling added, "I believe, deep down, and this is no act or anything, I believe I'm innocent."

He predicted that, "in the long run, we'll prevail."

Skilling disputed claims that he had shown no remorse. "That's not true," he said. "Of course I feel bad. I feel horrible. That's not to say that I did something illegal."

He said that he sometimes thought back to a time when he fell from a cliff and survived. Sometimes, he said, "You say, 'God, I wish I'd died.'"

But Sherron Watkins, the former vice president at Enron who blew the whistle on the company's leadership, showed no sympathy for her former boss.

"Jeff Skilling to this day does not accept responsibility for Enron's fraudulent activities or for its demise, and he was the CEO, he was the man at the helm," she told CBS News.

Investing public deceived

Skilling was convicted in May of 19 counts of fraud, conspiracy, insider trading and lying to auditors.

His co-defendant, now-deceased former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay, was also convicted on conspiracy, securities fraud and wire fraud charges.

The government said that Lay, Skilling and other Enron executives deceived the investing public, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and others about Enron's performance.

After the sentence was rendered, some former Enron jurors who attended Monday's proceedings said they thought the decision was fair but were disappointed Skilling still appeared to not take responsibility for his actions.

"He'll deny it till the end," juror Freddy Delgado told a reporter. "He was paid big bucks to be the CEO and the buck stopped with him."

Some victims felt the sentence was too lenient. "If it had been me, I would have given him more time," said Charles Prestwood, who lost $1.3 million when Enron collapsed. "I guess you can't win them all."

More than 4,000 Enron employees lost their jobs -- and many their life savings -- when the company declared bankruptcy in December 2001. Investors lost billions.

Enron's collapse marked the first of the high-profile corporate scandals that rocked the nation after the 1990s economic boom, followed by WorldCom, Global Crossing, Adelphia and Tyco. The wave of fraud led to passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which tightened oversight of how American companies are audited.

"Today's sentence is a measure of justice for the thousands of people who lost their jobs and millions of dollars in investments when Enron collapsed under the weight of the fraud perpetrated by the company's top executives," said Assistant Attorney General Fisher.

Investors lost billions

"The scheme was designed to make it appear that Enron was growing at a healthy and predictable rate, consistent with analysts' published expectations, that Enron did not have significant write-offs or debt and was worthy of investment-grade credit rating, that Enron was comprised of a number of successful business units, and that the company had an appropriate cash flow," the Department of Justice said in a written statement.

"It had the effect of inflating artificially Enron's stock price, which increased from approximately $30 per share in early 1998 to over $80 per share in January 2001, and artificially stemming the decline of the stock during the first three quarters of 2001."

The scheme fell apart and Enron claimed bankruptcy in December 2001, resulting in its stock becoming nearly worthless, costing investors billions of dollars and throwing more than 4,000 Enron employees out of work.

Judges in Houston have been busy in the past few weeks as several former Enron employees received sentences for their role in Enron's demise.

Among the more high-profile sentencings was that of Andrew Fastow, the company's former chief financial officer. Fastow, who was originally slated to serve 10 years under his plea agreement, will spend only six years in prison.

Fastow was a witness in the case against Lay and Skilling and received a lighter sentence, thanks to his cooperation.

Former chief accounting officer Richard Causey, who was originally slated to be sentenced on October 19, will instead face a judge on November 15. Causey cut a last-minute deal in December to avoid trial. He pleaded guilty to securities fraud and agreed to serve seven years in prison.

CNNMoney.com's Shaheen Pasha contributed to this story


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