Kenneth L. Lay, Richard Scrushy and Bernard J. Ebbers are singing that they don't know much about accounting tricks, don't know much about financial fraud, don't know much about anything. What a wonderful world it must have been, then, to simply show up on Fridays to pocket the paychecks.
And what good Fridays they were, at least until the financial foundations of their respective companies were crushed by dishonest accounting schemes that pumped up executive pay and incinerated billions in investor money. Prosecutors say Scrushy, the former HealthSouth Corp. chief executive, enjoyed $279 million in ill-gotten salary, bonuses and stock options. Lay, the former Enron chairman, collected $103.6 million in payments during the calendar year before his company imploded. And in the days before WorldCom crashed into bankruptcy, the personal fortune of former Chief Executive Ebbers was estimated at $1.4 billion.
Lay, whose criminal trial will begin next year, unveiled his "I knew nothing" defense last summer after federal prosecutors outlined their case against him in a 65-page criminal indictment. Lay claimed ignorance -- though incompetence might have been more believable -- when it came to the massive fraud that toppled Enron. Lay blames subordinates who kept him in the dark.