An Open Letter to Linda Lay, Kenneth Lay’s Widow:

Posted: Jul 07, 2006 12:00 AM

I cannot even begin to imagine the grief and heartache you must be experiencing. You undoubtedly took great pride in your husband’s hugely successful career, only to see it all implode by bankruptcy, scandal and a conviction. I’m sure you admired your late husband’s frequent expressions of faith and consistent declarations that he did nothing wrong. And I’ll bet that you had total belief in your husband when he testified that Enron’s legal woes were largely orchestrated by Andy Fastow, the company’s CFO who turned against your husband and testified against him in exchange for a lighter prison sentence.

I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am.

I’m sorry for a culture that seemed to enjoy turning your husband into a demon, even in death. I believe that type of demonizing is fueled by a media that loves to watch wealthy, powerful people squirm. I think that lots of people get some sort of sick satisfaction when a person like your husband is humbled in a very public way. Over the past few years, turning the Ken Lays and the Dick Grassos and the Martha Stewarts of the world into evil, corrupt, scheming monsters has become a sort of ritual in our country, hasn’t it?

Obviously I was never behind closed doors with your late husband, or Fastow, or any of the other top level executives of Enron. I suppose none of us will ever really know the truth. I do know, however, that many people admired your husband, a guy who emerged from an impoverished childhood and became a self-made man, a true master of industry, a titan of the business world. I’ve read stories of his philanthropy, the way he liked to give generously to various causes in the Houston area and beyond. True, he was never described as much of a warm and fuzzy type of person, but someone who created a company that employed thousands of people and became something that was once described as a real American success story.

Many will wonder why I feel such compassion for your husband – and you. The answer is simple: I believed him when he said that he entrusted too much to Fastow but didn’t realize he was doing anything wrong. I’ve seen firsthand how the business world works, the enormous pressure to hit the numbers and make all the projections happen. I can envision a tough taskmaster CEO expecting his CFO to get the job done, yet never expecting that he’d break the law to do so.

Maybe I’m mistaken. Perhaps your husband was as corrupt as people said he was. I just never believed it. I don’t think that a man who created a company like Enron would have been so cruel and uncaring as to intentionally hurt his employees, if for no other reason than his pride for his company would have stopped him. I believe in my heart that no one was sicker or sadder over the pensions and life savings lost by Enron employees than Kenneth Lay.

What I do know is that the government handed a deal to your husband’s chief accuser, a man your husband said was lying all along. I know that it’s the same government that put Martha Stewart behind bars for doing what her stockbroker told her to do. And the same government that ruined a company like Arthur Andersen, a once proud and mighty accounting firm, with trumped up charges and overreaching claims that were ultimately all thrown out of court, but only after the feds took the firm down, sending thousands of employees packing.

Funny how we never hear people demonize prosecutors who wind up saying “oops” over something like the Arthur Andersen debacle the way they demonize corporate executives.

I think millions of Americans hold a deep resentment for high-profile, high-powered executives with hefty compensation packages. And we’ve seen an ever-increasing effort by prosecutors to criminalize business practices which plays right into that resentment.

It’s been pretty disgusting to hear how some people have reacted to your husband’s unexpected and sudden death. Somebody told me that a local TV anchorwoman said, “Well, at least Ken Lay will never be around to hurt anyone else again.”

It’s been said that the government needs to make examples out of corporate executives. I’ve got a better idea: let’s make examples out of child molesters. How about sending killers to jail for the rest of their lives instead of business executives who may or may not have cooked the books? The thought that killers and rapists, in some cases, will spend less time behind bars than your husband would have is very difficult to digest.

As I said before, I don’t know for certain if your husband was guilty or not. I just know that you and your family and friends have been through so much tragedy and it’s unlikely that many journalists or pundits or news anchors will bother to address your loss.

So I just wanted to tell you I am sorry – for everything that you’ve been through.

May your husband rest in peace.