CBSN

Ken Lay: Let Me Go It Alone

Former Enron Corp. chairman and CEO Kenneth Lay poses in his Houston office before an interview with the Associated Press, Tuesday, July 13, 2004. Lay, 62, was indicted last week on 11 counts of securities fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud and making false statements to banks.
AP
Enron Corp. founder Kenneth Lay asked a federal judge Monday to sever his case from his co-defendants and allow him to go to trial Sept. 14.

Lay's lawyer made the requests in motions filed Monday, including that U.S. District Judge Sim Lake decide the case if it would take too long to seat a jury.

Lake will hear arguments related to the motions on Wednesday.

The motion for an early trial, says CBS News Legal Consultant Andrew Cohen, is a variation on the notion that sometimes the best defense is a good offense.

"Lay's lawyers," says Cohen, "are trying to put tremendous pressure on prosecutors to put up or shut up, to take him to trial quickly or concede that they aren't ready to prosecute. It is a strategy that most defense attorneys do not employ because of the risks involved."

Will it work?

"I would be stunned if the judge set this case for trial on September 14th but I would not be surprised if he separates the Lay trial from the trial of the two other Enron defendants," says Cohen. "I think Lay has a decent argument that the charges against him are different in form and scope from the charges against the other men, and now the question is whether they want to be tried separately from Lay as well."

Last month, Lay, 62, was charged with 11 counts of conspiracy, fraud and lying to banks about whether loans would be used to buy margin stock. His indictment came two and a half years into the Justice Department's investigation into the bankrupt energy trading company that collapsed amid revelations of hidden debt and inflated profits accomplished through a tangle of accounting trickery.

Lay was added to an indictment that named former accounting chief Richard Causey, 44, who initially was indicted in January on conspiracy and fraud charges. Causey's indictment came just a week after his one-time peer - former Enron finance chief Andrew Fastow - pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy. Fastow admitted to orchestrating schemes to hide Enron debt and inflate profits while pocketing millions of dollars for himself on the side.

In February, former chief executive Jeffrey Skilling, 50, was added as a defendant to the Causey indictment, both charged with more than 30 counts of insider trading, fraud, conspiracy and lying to auditors.

While the charges against Skilling and Causey allege crimes over several years leading up to Enron's December 2001 collapse, the conspiracy and fraud charges against Lay focus on the last few months of that year. Specifically, prosecutors allege Lay took over the reins of the conspiracy upon Skilling's abrupt resignation in August 2001.

All three have pleaded not guilty.