Although several major news organizations have included a teaching stint at GW in former Enron Corp. CEO Kenneth Lay’s background, no record of him as a professor exists at the University.
At least one GW alumnus has authentic ties to the scandal. Leslie Caldwell, who earned her law degree at GW, is lead prosecutor in charge of investigating the now defunct energy-trading giant.
Lay is reported to have been an associate economics professor at GW from 1969 to 1973, but the head of GW’s economics department, Harry Watson, said he has no record of it.
“I’ve looked in the records and have not seen any indication that he was ever connected to the Economics Department,” Watson wrote in an e-mail.
In articles about Lay last week in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and in the New York Daily News, Lay is identified as being an associate professor of economics at GW during the four-year period.
Both newspaper accounts source “Who’s Who in America,” a book published by Marquis Who’s Who, part of the Lexis-Nexis Group.
A brief teaching stint seems out of place in Lay’s career history.
Before 1969, Lay worked as an economist for energy company Exxon Corp. During the four-year period he is said to have been at GW, Lay apparently worked with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Following 1973, Lay’s career includes deputy undersecretary for energy, Department of the Interior and numerous executive positions with energy companies leading up to Enron in 1985.
GW joins a list including federal lawmakers, the entire U.S. Attorney’s office in Houston, thousands of employees and numerous Bush administration officials a few “degrees of separation” away from corporation’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy announcement in October.
Caldwell, head of the securities and fraud division in the San Francisco U.S. Attorney’s Office, was appointed to lead the congressional probe into Enron in January. She will lead a team of prosecutors from San Francisco, Houston, New York and the District.
Caldwell previously made a name for herself through a career of locking up infamous criminals.
“Caldwell is the most competent and creative attorneys that ever came out of the Department of Justice,” said colleague John Curran, who worked with Caldwell during her years in New York. “There is no chore she can’t handle. I would jump at any opportunity to work with her again.”
A 44-year-old lawyer from Pittsburgh, Caldwell graduated from the GW Law School in 1984 and tried her hand at civil law with a large New York-based firm. After three years, she transferred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Her years in New York earned Caldwell her reputation as a thorough and merciless officer of the court, according to her colleagues.
“She’s an awesome prosecutor, the best I’ve ever seen,” said Valerie Caproni, former head of the SEC’s Pacific Region in Los Angeles.
Caldwell is an expert in tax fraud, stock market fraud and organized crime cases but is also know for her diligence in prosecuting criminals like Lorenzo “Fat Cat” Nichols’ drug gang who was convicted for drug trafficking and the murder of his parole officer in the late ’90s.
“Her courtroom skills were legendary,” said Kelly Moore, chief of violent criminal enterprises for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn. “She took scores of murderers and gang members off the streets of New York City.”
Her career in Brooklyn lasted more than a decade, until current FBI Director Robert Mueller recruited her to head the securities and fraud division in the San Francisco Bay area.
Once on the West Coast, Caldwell re-established her reputation as a tough prosecutor by having white-collar criminals led away from the office in handcuffs – an unprecedented tactic.
“She was terrific; she put the Securities and Fraud division on the map,” said Helane Morrison, a friend and colleague of Caldwell. “She has worked very hard, she is smart and she really knows her stuff.”
Caldwell has also worked on cases like McKesson HBOC, a pharmaceutical company that was indicated in 1999 for falsifying profits which resulted in a $9 billion dollar loss for shareholders, a case similar to Enron.
“The fundamental difference between HBOC and Enron was that what they were doing was clearly illegal whereas with Enron, it is not clear,” Caproni said.
Morrison described the HBOC case as “huge.”
“It was definitely one of the largest cases of financial fraud before Enron, and (Caldwell) handled it mostly by herself,” she said.
Some of the more than 4,000 former Enron employees have reported losses of up to all of their retirement savings. At its height, the Enron stock traded at $90 a share, down to 67 cents before the New York Stock Exchange suspended trading of the stock in January.
With 18 years of experience under her belt, Caldwell is now responsible for assembling a task force of 10 prosecutors to conduct the Justice Department investigation into Enron and Lay.
Attorney General John Ashcroft and the entire U.S. Attorney’s Office in Houston have removed themselves from the case because of financial contributions from and social connections to the company.
The Center for Responsive politics reported that Enron donated $57,499 to Ashcroft during his 2000 Senate campaign.
Lay’s personal political contributions, which amount to nearly $800,000 in the last decade, have recently put President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in the spotlight. Lay is Bush’s single largest contributor.