December 2017: Enron Code of Ethics

Photo of the Enron Code of Ethics from 2000, signed by Enron’s Chairman and CEO Kenneth Lay.

The FBI’s December 2017 Artifact of the Month is the Enron Code of Ethics from 2000, signed by Enron’s Chairman and CEO Kenneth Lay. (Click image to view high-res.)

When Enron declared bankruptcy in December 2001 and took with it the nest eggs of thousands of employees and stockholders, the FBI Houston Field Office assigned two agents to investigate.

Within weeks, the number of agents and support staff assigned to the case grew to 45, and eventually it grew into the most complex white-collar case the FBI has ever investigated.

The sheer magnitude of the case prompted the creation of the multi-agency Enron Task Force, a unique blend of investigators and analysts from the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation Division, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and prosecutors from the Department of Justice.

In January 2002, agents executed a consent search of Enron’s 50-story corporate headquarters building. The search lasted nine days as investigators unearthed critical documents and emerged with more than 400 boxes of evidence. At the same time, agents conducted more than 100 interviews that helped identify fresh leads for investigators.

In February 2002, Enron’s board of directors issued findings from its own internal investigation—the Powers Report, named for William Powers Jr., head of the special investigation committee that wrote it—that said Enron executives reaped millions by using a web of partnerships to generate false profits and hiding Enron’s true debt. The Powers Report “was a gold mine,” said retired Supervisory Special Agent Michael E. Anderson, who led the Enron Task Force in Houston.

Agents who specialize in recovering forensic evidence from computers collected more than four terabytes (imagine 4,000 copies of an encyclopedia) of data, including e-mail from more than 600 employees. Meanwhile, the Regional Computer Forensics Lab in Houston processed circa 30 terabytes of data, making still more sense of the paper trail and flagging important leads for investigators.

Financial analysts combed through hundreds of bank and brokerage accounts to track fraudulent purchases, which proved critical in securing restraining orders, seizing more than $168 million in assets and supporting insider trading charges.

All in all, agents conducted more than 1,800 interviews, collected more than 3,000 boxes of evidence, seized more than $164 million, and analyzed more than four terabytes of digitized data. More than $105 million was forfeited to help compensate victims. Twenty-two people have been convicted for their actions related to the fraud, including Enron’s CEO, president/COO, CFO, treasurer, CAO, and heads of Business Units.

“The Enron Task Force’s efforts resulted in the convictions of nearly all of Enron’s executive management team,” said Mr. Anderson. “The task force represented a model task force—the participating agencies selflessly and effectively worked together in accomplishing significant results. The case demonstrated to Wall Street and the business community that they will be held accountable.”

“Enron was a company where it was OK to lie; it was OK to cheat as long as you were making money for the company. And that attitude was permissible up to the top levels of the company. Both Skilling and Lay [the former CEOs of Enron], they agreed with that, and they allowed employees, they tolerated transgressions as long as employees were making money for the company,” Mr. Anderson continued.

The FBI’s December 2017 Artifact of the Month is the Enron Code of Ethics from 2000, signed by Enron’s Chairman and CEO Kenneth Lay. The foreword of the Code of Ethics states that Enron “enjoys a reputation for fairness and honesty... but no matter [what]... Enron’s reputation... depends on its people, on you and me.” The executives of Enron defrauded thousands of people out of their life savings, leading to financial ruin for many of the employees that they purported to hold to high ethical standards. The artifact reminds us that no company is above the law and that white-collar crime will be relentlessly pursued by the FBI until the perpetrators are brought to justice.