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Ex-Enron workers look back with a mix of feelings

Associated Press//November 30, 2011

Ex-Enron workers look back with a mix of feelings

By Associated Press

//November 30, 2011

HOUSTON — Former Enron Corp. employee George Maddox, who lost his retirement savings when the energy giant collapsed, says he has been forced to spend his golden years making ends meet by mowing pastures and living in a run-down East Texas farmhouse.

Lisa Feener, former Enron marketing services manager, holds a cigar with an Enron logo as she reminisces about the company Friday, Nov. 18, 2011, at her home in Spring, Texas. The energy company collapsed 10 years ago.

Maddox, who served 30 years as a plant manager with the company, was long retired as Enron began spiraling out of control in the months leading up to its bankruptcy on Dec. 2, 2001. With all his retirement savings tied up in 14,000 shares of company stock, then worth more than $1.3 million, Maddox says he never saw the crash coming.

“There was no way I thought it would go belly up,” said Maddox, 78.

Ten years after what was the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history at the time, Maddox and other former workers of the Houston-based company remain angry about the scheming and deceit that led to its spectacular downfall. But most have tried to move on as best they can.

Eric Eden, who ran Enron’s computer drafting department, started a company to manufacture his invention — an underground lawn sprinkler he eventually sold nationwide.

Deborah DeFforge, who worked in Enron’s energy retail arm for five years, started a new career as a real estate agent. She said she’s enjoying it, though she acknowledges her former company’s collapse stung for a while.

“But it’s not like something we just sit and cry over every day,” DeFforge said. “It is what it is.”

Once the nation’s seventh-largest company, Enron plunged into bankruptcy proceedings after years of accounting tricks could no longer hide billions in debt or make failing ventures appear profitable. The collapse wiped out thousands of jobs, more than $60 billion in market value and more than $2 billion in pension plans.

Several top executives, including ex-CEO Jeffrey Skilling, landed in prison for their roles in a scheme to manipulate the company’s earnings and stock price by lying to employees and investors about Enron’s financial health. They were accused of using accounting tricks and complex financial structures to hide losses and create an illusion of success.

Some former employees say that beyond the loss of their jobs and retirement savings, they’re upset that many people still think the vast majority of Enron workers were part of the greed and dishonesty that brought down the company. They lament that the innovation and generosity that once made it a great place to work are now long forgotten.

“Enron wasn’t evil … A few individuals were corrupt, but not the entire company,” said Karen Hunter, who lost her job in Enron’s international marketing section and eventually found new work in marketing.

Maddox’s anger is directed particularly at three of the 24 Enron executives who were convicted in the scandal: Skilling; founder Kenneth Lay; and Andrew Fastow, the ex-chief financial officer and architect behind financial schemes that doomed the company.

Skilling remains in prison awaiting resentencing after an appeals court overturned his 24-year sentence and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to overturn his convictions. Lay’s convictions were vacated after he died of heart disease following his 2006 trial.

Fastow is serving the remainder of a six-year prison term in home confinement in Houston and is set to be released Dec. 17. He is now working as a document review clerk for the Houston law firm that represented him in civil cases over the last decade.

“I can’t hate them for sure. I believe in forgiveness, but I’m still mad at them,” Maddox said.

After his Enron retirement became worthless, Maddox and his wife Phyllis had to lease their suburban Houston home and move to an old family farmhouse in the East Texas town of Van. They also went back to work. Phyllis Maddox, a retired teacher, became a substitute teacher while her husband mowed lawns and pastures.

Phyllis Maddox later developed liver cancer and died in 2008. George Maddox used $26,000 he received from a lawsuit he and other ex-workers were a part of to get back some of their retirement savings to pay his wife’s medical bills. Now he raises his 14-year-old grandson by himself.

Lisa Feener worked as a manager of marketing services from 1989 until being laid off just before the bankruptcy. She still has some fond memories of the company, which she said treated its employees fairly and gave back to the community. Feener has saved a collection of Enron memorabilia, including small plaques and awards marking the completion of projects and photo albums depicting happier times.

“Every single person, even the people who we don’t think have paid enough have paid,” said Feener, of suburban Houston, who returned to Enron from 2002 through 2007, helping to sell the company’s assets. She has done freelance marketing work the last few years.

While Hunter and Feener, 46, place blame on either Fastow or Skilling, they both believe Lay was not malicious in his actions and that many of the prosecutions were unfair.

“I think the tactics were really no different than what occurs in federal prosecutions across the board,” said Philip Hilder, a Houston attorney who represented several ex-Enron executives who cooperated with prosecutors, including Sherron Watkins, who famously warned Lay in late August 2001 that Enron could “implode in a wave of accounting scandals.”

Watkins, who has been on the speaking circuit since the collapse, said she tried to stop talking about Enron, thinking no one was interested anymore.

“There remains a fascination about the details,” Watkins recently said from San Francisco, where she spoke at a company’s management conference on compliance and ethics.

Some of the convicted executives now free are also trying to move on, including Richard Causey, who was Enron’s chief accounting officer. He was released in October after serving more than five years in prison following a guilty plea.

“I’m thankful to be home and I have a lot of sadness for the way things turned out for so many people,” Causey said in a brief phone interview.

Eden, 43, said losing his job at Enron helped give him the push needed to start his own company, Watering Made Easy.

“I don’t look back and wish Enron was still here,” he said. “There is a way of life after Enron.”


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