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They Have Nothing to Hide

Ten 'Women of Enron' find a temp job posing for a pictorial in Playboy

June 27, 2002|THOMAS S. MULLIGAN

NEW YORK--Carey Lorenzo was just a few weeks into her new job at Enron Corp. last fall when she started getting signals that job security might be an issue.

Working out of a 20-person office in the landmark Chrysler Building, Lorenzo, 31, sold electricity in the state's newly deregulated energy market. Although she usually could offer small businesses a cheaper deal than they were getting from old-line utility Consolidated Edison, some customers balked at signing four- and seven-year contracts with a company that looked like it might not survive that long.

"Enron? No way!" Lorenzo recalled one businessman telling her. "Do you watch the news, honey?"

Lorenzo, whose job evaporated when the scandal-ridden energy company declared bankruptcy Dec. 2, has no regrets about her two-month fling with energy deregulation. After all, it gave the New Jersey native her shot at celebrity: She is one of 10 Enronites chosen to pose naked for Playboy's "Women of Enron" issue, hitting the stands Monday.

The women, including Maya Arthur of Tehachapi, were selected from more than 300 current and former Enron employees who sent in photos after Playboy announced in March plans for the pictorial. Playgirl magazine has already published its own peekaboo feature on Enron men.

Lorenzo and two fellow posers, who made TV appearances Wednesday, will also be on Wall Street today for a press conference and autograph session playing on Enron's notoriety as a stock-market fallen angel.

One of them, Cynthia Coghlan, 28, had a four-month stint in an Enron unit in Toronto. After the U.S. bankruptcy filing, however, Canadian workers were in limbo awaiting a court ruling on whether their division could operate independently. The answer was no.

"We couldn't really do any work," Coghlan recalled during an interview this week at Playboy's 5th Avenue offices overlooking Central Park. "We sat around playing euchre tournaments in the board room."

For Oregonian Christine Nielsen, the August issue's cover girl, the Playboy promotional tour is her first visit to New York. Like Coghlan and Lorenzo, she said she's had only positive feedback about Playboy from her former co-workers at Enron. "They just laugh when they hear about it."

Nielsen, 28, said she could see cracks in the Enron facade well before Wall Street did. The project manager at Portland-based Enron Broadband and hundreds of co-workers were laid off in May 2001, months before the parent company started unraveling amid allegations of document-shredding and accounting fraud.

"Business was drying up," Nielsen said. "Everybody saw the writing on the wall."

But a year earlier, while broadband was still flying high, she met and was impressed by Enron's then-chairman Kenneth L. Lay and then-president Jeffrey K. Skilling when the two visited Portland for conferences.

The macho reputation established by Enron's aggressive Houston trading operation also permeated Portland, Nielsen said.

"It was a very masculine, tough, go-get-'em atmosphere, definitely not nurturing," she said. Still, "I never felt like if I came up with a great idea, as a woman I'd be discouraged from running with it," she added.

Enron's collapse taught Nielsen a lesson about corporate America, she said: "Buyer beware."

In two years on the job, she had built a sizable nest egg of Enron stock options, which became worthless when the company went bankrupt. It was worse for her father, a retired letter carrier in Portland who invested "a good chunk" of his retirement savings in Enron stock.

Nielsen, who holds an environmental science degree from the University of Oregon, is heading back to school to train as a midwife so she can "use my skills as a nurturing person," she said.

Most of the new Playboy models have lost jobs, money or both in Enron's collapse, yet there is surprisingly little bitterness among them. Arthur, 29, the lone Southern Californian among the 10, said in a telephone interview that her three years at Tehachapi-based Enron Wind were overwhelmingly positive.

Payback played no part in motivating Arthur, who is married and the mother of a 4-year-old, to try out for the Playboy pictorial, she said.

When a friend e-mailed her about the upcoming issue, her first reaction was, "No way. Just the thought of being nude in front of strangers was scary."

But finally, encouraged by friends and her husband, she decided that she would kick herself later if she let the opportunity pass. The night before the shooting, "I got maybe an hour's sleep," she said.

Neither Playboy nor the Enron models would discuss the modeling fee paid for the photo session, but Lorenzo said it was more than enough to cover the rent this summer on her apartment in Manhattan's trendy Gramercy Park area.

If Enron was accused of using accounting tricks to inflate profits, Playboy, in catering to sexual fantasies, is also capable of rounding up to a higher number.

Lorenzo's figure isn't as over-the-top as that of a typical Playboy centerfold, so she borrowed a padded bra to wear under a tightfitting T-shirt for an Entertainment Tonight taping Tuesday.

"Thanks for the boobs," she said, laughing as she returned the garment afterward.

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