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Kenneth Lee "Ken" Lay (April 15, 1942 – July 5, 2006) was an American businessman, best known for his role in the widely reported corruption scandal that led to the downfall of Enron Corporation. Lay and Enron became synonymous with corporate abuse and accounting fraud when the scandal broke in 2001. Lay was the CEO and chairman of Enron from 1985 until his resignation on January 23, 2003, except for a few months in 2000 when he was chairman and Jeffrey Skilling was CEO.
On July 16, 2002, Lay was indicted by a grand jury on 11 counts of securities fraud and related charges. On January 31, 2006, following four and a half years of preparation by government prosecutors, Lay's and Skilling's trial began in Houston. Lay was found guilty on May 25, 2006, of 10 counts against him; the judge dismissed the 11th. Because each count carried a maximum 5- to 10-year sentence, legal experts said Lay could have faced 20 to 30 years in prison. However, he died while vacationing in Snowmass, Colorado on July 5, 2006, about three and a half months before his scheduled October 23 sentencing. Preliminary autopsy reports state that he died of a heart attack caused by coronary artery disease. As a result of his death, on October 17, 2006, the federal district court judge who presided over the case vacated Lay's conviction.
In Washington, Dick Cheney, the Vice President-elect, was on the phone with Ken Lay.
Months of uncertainty had followed the November presidential elections, with the Bush and Gore camapigns fighting it out in court over the razor-thin margins of victory in Florida. Now, with Bush declared the victor, the Administration was assembling its Cabinet.
A number of candidates had already been selected--including Don Evans, the campaign's national finance chairman and an old friend of Lay's, to serve as Commerce Secretary. Lay himself had interest in one particular job, which was why Cheney was on the phone to Houston this day.
"Ken," Cheney said, "I'm sure you know, we've been seriously considering you for Treasury Secretary."
Lay could already tell the news wasn't good.
"The President has decided that with he and Don Evans and I all from Texas, all from the energy business, things were getting a little top-heavy. Nominating a fourth person that was in the energy business and from Houston would probably create too many problems."
"Well, I certainly understand, Dick," Lay replied.
Lay wasn't all that disappointed, though. He didn't lust for Washington. He was happy staying Enron's chairman.
Earlier in his World Bank career he served as director of the Bank's operations in several countries in Southeastern Europe and as head of its financial sector practice. Prior to joining the World Bank in 1982, he was an enforcement lawyer with the U S Securities and Exchange Commission, heading its branch of corporation finance enforcement.
Mr. Lay also serves on the World Bank Group Pension Finance Committee. He is a member of the State Bar of California and holds a Chartered Financial Analyst designation from the CFA Institute.