Ex Enron CEO, Jeffrey Skilling's prison term cut by 10 years

A federal judge yesterday cut 10 years off the prison sentence of former Enron Corp chief executive Jeffrey Skilling, a decision that could see him freed as early as 2017, Reuters reports.

His term was reduced from 24 years to 14 years by US district judge Simeon Lake, accepting a deal struck between prosecutors and Skilling's lawyers that would end years of appeals.

Under the deal, over $40 million of Skilling's fortune, frozen since his conviction in 2006, would be distributed to victims of Enron's collapse.

"This is not an easy decision," Lake told the hearing before he acknowledged both the gravity of Skilling's crimes as also his charitable works in Houston, and in prison, where he reads to a blind inmate and teaches English and Spanish. Skilling has also held a job fair for inmates about to be released.

A jury convicted Skilling in May 2006 of 19 counts of conspiracy, securities fraud, insider trading and lying to auditors for his role in maintaining a facade of success even as the energy business of the firm collapsed.

Enron founder Kenneth Lay was also found guilty of multiple counts of conspiracy and fraud but died of heart failure six weeks after the trial ended, prompting Lake to throw out the conviction.

"We are relieved that we can now see the light burning at the end of the tunnel," Daniel Petrocelli, Skilling's attorney told reporters after the hearing.

''The sentence handed down today ends years of litigation, imposes significant punishment upon the defendant and precludes him from ever challenging his conviction or sentence,'' Mythili Raman, the acting assistant attorney general, said in a statement.

The New York Times reported that several Enron victims wrote letters to the court protesting the reduced sentence of Skilling. Yesterday, Andrew Stoltmann, a lawyer who represented several victims, criticised the justice department for agreeing to the reduction and saying it was not  acceptable as it came on the heels of the lack of prosecutions arising out of the financial crisis.

He added, by entering into this early release agreement, a clear message would be sent to corporate CEOs that if they got caught with the hand in the cookie jar, they would get little more than a slap on the wrist.

The fall of Enron, from its peak cost shareholders billions of dollars and its employees their retirement savings.