The Enron verdict comes as no surprise. What surprises is the press reaction to it. A sub-headline in this morning's New York Times reads: "Case Became a Symbol of Corporate Excess in the 1990s." Must we always seek to define and redefine ourselves around such hum-drum axes?
That Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling were found guilty of feeding at the corporate trough is hardly front-page news. Corporate fraud seems to be routine; there are so many recipes for cooking corporate books one almost expects to see them dished up on a cable television show. What will be newsworthy is sentencing, auspiciously set for 9/11.
Both men face potential lengthy sentences. But in white collar world there is a secret maxim known to boardroom bucaneers: Do the crime 'cause you don't face much time. Meanwhile, some ghetto dweller with an eight-ball of crack faces a decade or more in routine drug cases.
United States District Court Judge Simeon T. Lake of Houston will have his hands full at the sentencing hearing. I can already hear the cries for leniency. Experts at federal Sentencing Guideline manipulations are no doubt already busy at work, churning up big fees.
Is Enron the corporate crime of the century? Beats me? I look at Skilling and Lay and see only larger versions of the strutt and puff world of the corporate bully. But if the crime is such a big deal, the sentence that follows ought to be more than a slap on the wrist.