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DOJ seeks to avoid clearing Ken Lay criminal record

[JURIST] The US Justice Department [official website] filed a motion Wednesday requesting US District Judge Simeon T. Lake III defer a ruling on vacating the criminal record [JURIST report] of former Enron [JURIST news archive] CEO Kenneth Lay [Houston Chronicle profile; JURIST news archive] until former Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling [Houston Chronicle profile] is sentenced on October 23. Lay and Skilling were convicted of fraud and conspiracy charges [JURIST report] in May but Lay died of a heart attack [JURIST report] before his sentencing hearing. DOJ attorneys filed its motion to allow Congress time to consider a bill drafted by DOJ lawyers that would remove the "doctrine of abatement" from the criminal code, a vehicle that allows federal courts to throw out convictions of criminal defendants that die pending an appeal and generally hinders efforts to collect civil penalties from the families of deceased defendants. The DOJ wants Congress to pass the law in an effort to recover more than $40 million from Lay's estate.

Federal agents did not seize any of Lay's assets under a forfeiture order [motion text, PDF] that was filed days before Lay's death [Washington Post report], and if the court dismisses the conviction, the federal government will have no means of seizing property controlled by the Lay estate to compensate victims of the Enron collapse. Instead, victims will have to pursue civil remedies against Lay [JURIST report] in order to recover money lost when Enron declared bankruptcy in 2001. The New York Times has more.

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