Posts tagged ‘Task Force’

New Jersey Privatization Initiative

New Jersey under Christie continues to be a leader in challenging traditional government models.   I discuss and link to some of the findings over at my privatization blog, including some interesting findings on recreation.  This is from Reason's Len Gilroy:

Park management concession agreements: Having written numerous articles in recent months suggesting that states embrace the private operation of state parks"”something relatively "new" to states, but common at the federal level"”it was particularly rewarding to see the Task Force embrace the concept, recommending that the state should enter into one or more long"term concession agreements with private recreation firms for the operation and management of all state parks. Annual savings to the state were estimated to range between $6-8 million annually, a significant sum relative to overall park spending. This is the boldest, most sweeping call for state park privatization that I've personally ever seen at the state level, and Gov. Christie and NJ State Parks have an opportunity to blaze a new and transformational path forward on state parks management that policymakers in every state should be watching closely.

Supremes Take Skilling Case

This decision by the Supreme Court may be a surprise to anyone who reads the regular media, which long ago fricasseed Skilling.  But Houston attorney Tom Kirkendall has been covering the Enron-related cases for years, and has reported on any number of prosecutorial abuses.  As he writes:

On the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision earlier this year to hear Conrad Black's appeal of his criminal conviction on honest services wire-fraud charges under 18 U.S.C. § 1346 ("Section 1346), the Court yesterday granted former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling's appeal on similar grounds. A copy of the Skilling's cert petition and its appendix, which are bookmarked in Adobe Acrobat to facilitate ease of review, can be downloaded here.

My sense is that Skilling has a good chance of having the Supreme Court overturn his conviction. Here's why.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal's decision in Skilling's appeal... is looking by the minute similar to the Fifth Circuit's decision in the Arthur Andersen case that was overturned by a unanimous Supreme Court

This is the ironic gist of the appeal in layman's terms:

Honest services wire-fraud under Section 1346 was intended by Congress to penalize corporate executives and governmental officials for accepting bribes and kickbacks and for engaging in self-dealing at the expense of the employer-- i.e., the private gain requirement of the crime.

The Task Force faced a big problem with prosecuting Skilling at all because he never stole a dime from Enron (that is, no private gain). In fact, the Task Force conceded at trial that, not only did Skilling not embezzle any money from Enron, the case against him was not about "greed," that Skilling always sought to pursue Enron's "best interests," and that every act for which he was being prosecuted was undertaken for the purpose of protecting Enron and promoting its share price.

Despite the foregoing, the Task Force persuaded U.S. District Judge Sim Lake to allow the prosecution to proceed against Skilling on a much broader honest services theory -- that is, that Skilling simply took on too much risk for the long-term good of Enron and improperly touted the company to the markets.

However, all corporate executives take business risks and promote their companies, so a rule that criminalizes any business decision that seems imprudent to prosecutors or lay jurors operating with hindsight bias -- even if if the executive was pursuing the interest of the company -- would force corporate executives to proceed at peril of criminal liability in making day-to-day business judgments. Indeed, in a civil case, Skilling would have had the protection of the "business judgment rule" for his business decisions,  but the Enron Task Force's theory of honest services in Skilling's case provided for no such defense. Instead, the Task Force lawyers urged the jury to send Skilling to prison effectively for life simply because he breached his duty to do his job and do it appropriately.

Meanwhile, Skilling may also get a new trial from the 5th Appeals court based on charges of prosecutorial abuse:

In that regard, the Fifth Circuit decision invited Skilling to file a motion for new trial based on issues of prosecutorial misconduct that Skilling raised in the appeal after discovering the evidence post-trial. Specifically, the Fifth Circuit was particularly concerned about the failure of the Enron Task Force to comply with federal rules requiring the disclosure of exculpatory evidence to the defense from the Task Force's pre-trial interviews with main Skilling accuser, former Enron CFO Andrew Fastow.

Now I Understand - Obama Means Five Million New Government Jobs

I have not been able to figure out how Obama gets to a 5 million job creation number from his alternative energy plans.  As I pointed out,

OK, so the total employment of all these industries that might be
related to an alternate energy effort is about 2.28 million.  So, to
add 5 million incremental jobs would require tripling the size of the
utility industry, tripling the size of the utility construction and
equipment industry, tripling the size of the auto industry, tripling
the size of the aircraft industry, and tripling the size of the
shipbuilding industry.  And even then we would be a bit short of
Obama's number.

But now I think I am starting to understand.  Tom Nelson gave me the clue with this article from the town of Frankfort, Kentucky:

Commissioners again discussed the possible creation of a sustainability coordinator position for the city.

Andy MacDonald, of the Mayor's Task Force on Energy Efficiency and
Climate Change, told commissioners that the creation of the position is
"the next critical step" to reduce the city's environmental footprint.

Commissioner Doug Howard brought up the possibility of asking the
city's recycling coordinator to fulfill part of the proposed position's
duties until money is available.

OK, so we need both a recycling coordinator and a sustainability coordinator for a town of 27,741 people (2000 census).  At this rate, that would imply nearly 22,000 government jobs across the country just in the government recylcing and sustainablity coordination field.  Now I am starting to understand.  Obama means five million new government jobs.

Duh

From the Interagency Task Force on Commodity Markets, via Mark Perry:

The Task
Force's preliminary assessment is that current oil prices and the
increase in oil prices between January 2003 and June 2008 are largely
due to fundamental supply and demand factors. During this same period,
activity on the crude oil futures market "“ as measured by the number of
contracts outstanding, trading activity, and the number of traders "“
has increased significantly. While these increases broadly coincided
with the run-up in crude oil prices, the Task Force's preliminary
analysis to date does not support the proposition that speculative
activity has systematically driven changes in oil prices.

The
world economy has expanded at its fastest pace in decades, and that
strong growth has translated into substantial increases in the demand
for oil, particularly from emerging market countries. On the supply
side, the production of oil has responded sluggishly, compounded by
production shortfalls associated with geopolitical unrest in countries
with large oil reserves. As it is very difficult to rely on substitutes
for oil in the short term, very large price increases have occurred as
the market balances supply and demand (see top two charts above).

If
a group of market participants has systematically driven prices,
detailed daily position data should show that that group's position
changes preceded price changes. The Task Force's preliminary analysis,
based on the evidence available to date, suggests that changes in
futures market participation by speculators have not systematically
preceded price changes. On the contrary, most speculative traders
typically alter their positions following price changes, suggesting
that they are responding to new information "“ just as one would expect
in an efficiently operating market.

Congress and other agencies have commissioned studies of this type on oil markets and prices approximately every 90 days or so for the last 35 years, and every one of them have come to the same conclusion:  Oil markets move based on the participant's best guesses about trends in supply and demand.  Duh.  As I wrote previously, the last hydrocarbon price manipulation case I have seen in court was aimed at a group that allegedly manipulated prices for 30 seconds at the end of a trading day whose closing price affected certain contracts.  And it is not clear that they were successful. 

We Don't Need To Turn Over No Stinking Evidence

A few days ago, I pointed to a Tom Kirkendall post where he reported that a large volume of evidence, including interview notes with star witness and Enron CFO Andy Fastow, was finally turned over to the Skilling defense team.  This is required by law to occur before the, you know, trial itself but in fact comes months and years after the trial.  Apparently, there are a lot of bombshells in the notes, including this one as described by Skilling's attorneys in a brief linked by Kirkendall: (citations omitted)

Task Force prosecutors called the "Global Galactic"  document "three pages of lies" and the "most incriminating document" in  Skilling's entire case. At trial, Fastow testified Skilling  knew about Global Galactic because Fastow "confirmed" it with him during a  spring 2001 meeting. Skilling denied knowing anything about Global Galactic.  To bolster Fastow's testimony and impeach Skilling's, the Task Force introduced a set of handwritten "talking points" that Fastow said he prepared in anticipation of his meeting with Skilling. At trial, Fastow swore he "went over" the talking points with Skilling, including the crucial point "Confirmation of Global Galactic list." Id. In closing, the Task Force relied heavily on this document to corroborate Fastow's testimony that he discussed Global Galactic with Skilling.

The raw notes of Fastow's interviews directly impeach Fastow's testimony and the Task Force's closing arguments. When shown and asked about the talking-points document in his pre-trial interview, Fastow told the Task Force he "doesn't think [he] discussed list w/ JS."

This obviously exculpatory statement was not included in the Task Force's "composite" Fastow 302s given to Skilling. Nor was it included in the "Fastow Binders" the Task Force assembled for the district court's in camera review of the raw notes. It is not possible that this omission was inadvertent. Fastow's statement is one of the most important pieces of evidence provided during all his countless hours of interviews. Moreover, in preparing both the composite 302s and Fastow binders, the Task Force extracted and included other"”relatively inconsequential"”statements from the same interview date and even the same page of notes. The Task Force's exclusion of this critical piece of evidence for over three years is inexcusable and, on its own, warrants a complete reversal of Skilling's convictions and other substantial relief.

Disclosure: I actually worked with Jeff Skilling briefly at McKinsey & Co.  From that experience, I have always thought it unlikely that this incredibly detail-oriented guy did not know about a number of these key Enron partnerships.  However, that presumption on my part in no way reduces my desire to see him get a fair trial, and I am becoming convinced that he did not.

Thoughts on Prosecutorial Abuse

With Eliot Spitzer going down for what shouldn't be a crime (paying for sex) rather than what should be (abuse of power), now is as good a time as ever to focus on prosecutorial abuse.  As in the case of Spitzer, the media seems to have little desire to investigate overly-aggressive prosecution tactics.  In fact, in most cities, the local media cheer-leads abusive law enforcement practices.  It makes heroes of these abusive officials, whether their abuses be against the wealthy (in the case of Spitzer) or the powerless (as is the case of our own Joe Arpaio here in Phoenix).

Tom Kirkendall continues to be on the case of the Enron prosecution team for their abuses, which have been ignored in the media during the general victory dance of putting Jeff Skilling in jail and running Arthur Anderson out of business.  But, guilty or innocent, Skilling increasingly appears to have solid grounds for a new trial.  In particular, the Enron prosecution team seems to have bent over backwards to deny the Skilling team exculpatory evidence.  One such tactic was to file charges against every possible Skilling witness, putting pressure on them not to testify for Skilling.  Another tactic was more traditional - simply refuse to turn over critical documents and destroy those that were the most problematic:

The controversy regarding what Fastow told
prosecutors and FBI agents who were investigating Enron became a big
issue in the Lay-Skilling prosecution when the prosecution took the
unusual step of providing the Lay-Skilling defense team a "composite
summary" of the Form 302 ("302's") interview reports that federal
agents prepared in connection with their interviews of Fastow. Those
composites claimed that the Fastow interviews provided no exculpatory
information for the Lay-Skilling defense, even though Fastow's later
testimony at trial indicated all sorts of inconsistencies

However,
I have spoken with several former federal prosecutors about this issue
and all believe that the government has a big problem in the Skilling
case on the way in which the information from the Fastow interviews was
provided to the Lay-Skilling defense team. None of these former
prosecutors ever prepared a composite 302 in one of their cases or ever
used such a composite in one of their cases. The process of taking all
the Fastow interview notes or draft 302's and creating a composite is
offensive in that it allowed the prosecution to mask inconsistencies
and changing stories that Fastow told investigators as he negotiated a
better plea deal from the prosecutors. 

Similarly,
the Enron Task Force's apparent destruction of all drafts of the
individual 302s of the Fastow interviews in connection with preparing
the final composite is equally troubling. Traditionally, federal agents
maintain their rough notes and destroy draft 302s. However, in regard
to the Fastow interviews, my sense is that the draft 302s were not
drafts in the traditional sense. They were probably finished 302's that
were deemed "drafts" when the Enron Task Force decided to prepare a
composite summary of the 302's.

Note that showing how a person's story has changed over time is a key prosecution tactic, but one that is being illegally denied to Skilling.  Apparently Skilling's team has now seen the actual interview notes, and believe they have found "a sledgehammer that destroys Fastow's testimony" against Skilling.  Stay tuned, a new trial may be on the horizon.

Prosecutorial Abuse

Tom Kirkendall has stayed on the case of Enron Task Force prosecutorial abuse even while most of the world has turned away, apparently believing that "mission accomplished"  (ie putting Skilling in jail) justifies about any set of shady tactics.

But the evidence continues to grow that Skilling did not get a fair trial.  We know that the task force bent over backwards to pressure exculpatory witnesses from testifying for Skilling, but now we find that prosecutors may have hidden a lot of exculpatory evidence from the defense.

Meanwhile, continuing to fly under the mainstream media's radar
screen is the growing scandal relating to the Department of Justice's
failure to turnover potentially exculpatory evidence to the defense
teams in two major Enron-related criminal prosecutions (see previous
posts here and here). The DOJ has a long legacy of misconduct in the Enron-related criminal cases that is mirrored by the mainstream media's myopia in ignoring it (see here, here, here, here and here).

This motion
filed recently in the Enron-related Nigerian Barge criminal case
describes the DOJ's non-disclosure of hundreds of pages of notes of FBI
and DOJ interviews of Andrew Fastow, the former Enron CFO who was a key prosecution witness in the Lay-Skilling trial and a key figure in the Nigerian Barge trial.

Enron Task Force prosecutors withheld the notes of the Fastow
interviews from the defense teams prior to the trials in the
Lay-Skilling and Nigerian Barge cases. If the Fastow notes turn out to
reflect that prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence or induced
Fastow to change his story over time, then that would be strong grounds
for reversal of Skilling's conviction and dismissal of the remaining
charges against the Merrill Lynch bankers in the Nigerian Barge case.

The post goes on to describe pretty substantial violations of FBI rules in handling interviews with Fastow, including destruction of some of the Form 302's summarizing early interviews.  The defense hypothesis is that Fastow changed his story over time, particularly vis a vis Skilling's involvement, under pressure from the task force and the 302's were destroyed and modified to hide this fact from the defense, and ultimately the jury.

Prosecurtorial Abuse

As the DOJ's Corporate Fraud Task Force pats itself on the back for the great job it is doing, Tom Kirkendall rips them up in a scathing rebuttal.  I encourage you to follow the links -- he has great depth on every point he makes.

Prosecurtorial Abuse

As the DOJ's Corporate Fraud Task Force pats itself on the back for the great job it is doing, Tom Kirkendall rips them up in a scathing rebuttal.  I encourage you to follow the links -- he has great depth on every point he makes.

Prosecurtorial Abuse

As the DOJ's Corporate Fraud Task Force pats itself on the back for the great job it is doing, Tom Kirkendall rips them up in a scathing rebuttal.  I encourage you to follow the links -- he has great depth on every point he makes.

Rising Price of "Justice"

In the next few weeks, Enron leaders Lay and Skilling will or will not be found guilty of various fraud-related charges (betting is that they will be).  You, in turn, may or may not agree with the verdict. (Disclosure:  I used to work with Skilling at McKinsey.  From my knowledge of his brilliant mind and his attention to detail, I thought that his Congressional testimony that he was unaware of the shenanigans in the SPE's was unconvincing, and so thought at the beginning of the trial he would be found guilty.  However, the prosecution's case has had surprisingly little to do with the SPE's and was weaker than I expected, so I am less sure now).

Wherever you are on guilt or innocence, you should be concerned about the increasingly aggressive tactics that prosecutors are getting away with in this and related cases.  Tom Kirkendall is all over this story, and reports:

the Enron Task Force refused Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling's request to
have the prosecution recommend to U.S. District Judge Sim Lake that
half-a-dozen former high-level Enron executives who have declined to
testify during the trial on Fifth Amendment grounds be granted immunity
from having their testimony used against them in a subsequent
prosecution.

Those witnesses -- several of whom have been mentioned prominently
in testimony during the trial -- would likely provide exculpatory
testimony for Lay and Skilling if they were to testify. The
Lay-Skilling defense team limited their immunity request to those six
witnesses even though the Task Force fingered the unprecedented number
of the Task Force identified over 100 former Enron executives
as unindicted co-conspirators in the case for the transparent purpose
of preventing the jury from hearing the full story of what happened at
Enron.

Another potential outcome may be the weakening of attorney-client privilege.

Enron, Week 5

Tom Kirkendall has another excellent roundup of the Lay/Skilling trial.  According to Kirkendall, the prosecution is having some trouble, and in fact have wandered pretty far afield from their original indictment (a document that the prosecution now actually has disowned).  In effect, Lay and Skilling seem to be being tried for different things than they were ostensibly brought to trial for.  Most interesting is this:

On the other hand, the Task Force's case to date has wandered away from
the SPE's, so there is a decent chance that a difficult-to-control
Fastow could end up being a not-so-important witness in the
ever-changing big scheme of this corporate criminal case of the decade.

If Kirkendall is reading the trial correctly, and the SPE's and Fastow's testimony are becoming irrelevant, then the trial has virtually nothing to do with anything we have heard about in the media about Enron.

Barrionuevo and Eichenwald, who have been following the trial for the NY Times, agrees that the government case is shifting but believe it is due to the strength of what has been presented so far.

A steady drumbeat of damaging testimony in the five-week-old criminal trial against the former chief executives, Jeffrey K. Skilling and Kenneth L. Lay,
has led legal experts to praise the government case presented so far.
That has raised questions about the risks prosecutors would run by
putting Mr. Fastow, the former chief financial officer, on the stand as
early as Tuesday.

I haven't followed the testimony in any depth, so I can't choose from these two point of views, except to say that the government tactics of essentially changing the charges mid-trial and suppressing defense witnesses by naming a record number as unindicted co-conspirators may or may not be effective, but strike me as fairly scary abuses of the justice system.

Are Prosecutors Going Too Far?

I have been following the Lay/Skilling Enron trial fairly closely, if only because in a past life I worked briefly with the principles, having worked with Jeff Skilling at McKinsey & Co. before he went to Enron.  By the way, if this causes you to assume this makes me particularly sympathetic to the gentlemen, think again.  Jeff Skilling is one of the brightest and most detail-oriented people I have ever worked with, giving me near certainty that his testimony before Congress where he imitated Sargent Shultz (I know nothing... NOTHING) was perjurous.   So I am not entirely neutral, but maybe not in the way you might imagine.

However, all that being said, Tom Kirkendall (whose blog is here and is doing a great job keeping up with the trial) has a very interesting post on the fairly scary tactics the Enron prosecution task force has brought to bear on a number of Enron and Enron-related defendants:

In an unprecedented move, the Task Force has named over 100 co-conspirators
in the case. So, the potential definitely exists for substantial
testimony about out-of-court statements going to the jury without the
defense ever having an opportunity to cross-examine the persons who
made the alleged statements. Moreover, fingering unindicted
co-conspirators is an equally effective technique for the Task Force to prevent testimony that is favorable to the defense
because persons named as unindicted co-conspirators are likely to the
assert their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and
thus, not be defense witnesses during the trial. Thus, the Task Force's
liberal use of the co-conspirator tag has a double-whammy effect -- not
only does it allow the Task Force to use out-of-court statements
against defendants without having the declarant of the statements
subjected to cross-examination, it has also effectively prevented
previous Enron-related defendants from obtaining crucial exculpatory
testimony from alleged co-conspirators who have elected to take the
Fifth and declined to testify.

The co-conspirator tactic has had a huge impact on two of the previous Enron-related trials. During the Nigerian Barge trial,
the Task Force used out-of-court statements of co-conspirators
regarding the key factual issue in the case -- that is, what was said
during a conference call between several Merrill and Enron executives,
including former Enron CFO Andrew Fastow -- without ever having to put
a witness on the stand who actually participated in the call.
Similarly, none of the dozens of unindicted co-conspirators testified
on behalf of the defendants during that trial, so the Task Force's use
of the tactic effectively prevented the Merrill Lynch executives in
that case from providing the jury with exculpatory testimony. Not
surprisingly, the Task Force's liberal use of the co-conspirator tactic
has become a key appellate point for the Merrill executives in the appeal of their convictions.

Similarly, the importance of the co-conspirator issue on freezing
out exculpatory testimony was brought into full focus during the trial
of the Enron Broadband case last year. In a trial that, at the outset, appeared to be a sure-thing for the prosecution, the Task Force's case unraveled quickly as witnesses Lawrence Ciscon and Beth Stier
both testified to a riveted jury about how the Task Force's threats of
prosecution against them gave them second thoughts about providing the
exculpatory testimony that they gave during the trial. That trial ended
in a disastrous mix of acquittals and jury deadlock on the prosecution's charges.

The ability to face and cross-examine your accusers is a fundamental part of the American legal system.  Even well-intentioned relaxing of this principle has in the past led to innocent people going to jail.

Update:  Kirkendall writes that the same issue is being addressed on appeal in the Worldcom trial of Bernard Ebbers.