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  D.F.'s Column Archive
May 24, 2006
Dastardly Auto-Pen Frames Innocent CEO

Former Enron CEO Ken Lay is facing six counts of fraud and conspiracy, and could be facing 45 years in prison. Now, if I were facing 45 years in prison, I would want the best lawyer I could possibly find – and I’m thinking that’s not the guy representing Ken Lay.


Because the best lawyer someone could possibly find would certainly come up with a better excuse than “The auto-pen did it!”


Auto-pens are great inventions. If you’re a CEO and you have to sign a lot of letters, legal documents, checks and so on, they save you time. If you’re the Secretary of Defense, you can sign condolence letters with one until the Democrats find out.


I don’t think you’re supposed to commit fraud with them, but maybe that’s my fault, because I don’t actually have one, so I’ve never really read the usage manual. Apparently Mr. Lay and his attorney are asking the jury to believe that auto-pens have minds of their own.


If Mr. Lay is to be believed, here is what his auto-pen did:


  • Called a bunch of lenders and got them to lend him $75 million, on the condition that he (Lay, not the auto-pen, I think) wouldn’t use the money to buy margin stock
  • Used the money to buy margin stock (see, you’re not supposed to do that)
  • Collateralized the $75 million loans with Enron stock, which got to be a bit of a problem when the Enron stock started tanking and he (Lay, not the auto-pen, I think) had to make a margin call, which he paid for by simply taking the money out of Enron company funds. You’re not supposed to do that!
  • Repaid Enron with – are you ready for this? – Enron stock!


That’s a very sneaky auto-pen. And yet this is Mr. Lay’s defense theory. The bank documents were signed by the auto-pen, not by Mr. Lay himself, so case dismissed.


But this clearly leaves more questions than answers. Where did the auto-pen hide the money? Why doesn’t the auto-pen have legal representation, what with all this stuff it is being accused of? If an auto-pen were signing a fraudulent bank document while riding on a train leaving Boston at 48 miles per hour and sipping Snapple Kiwi Strawberry, would Fox News Channel issue a Fox News Alert to report what Alan Greenspan thought about it?


I’m pretty sure the whole idea of the auto-pen is that, when it is used to sign your signature, that the legal authority of the signature is, you know, like you actually signed it? Otherwise, a whole bunch of checks couldn’t be cashed, and I would have to start reconsidering a lot of the generous offers I receive in the mail.


If the auto-pen defense actually gets Lay off, perhaps we will see a growing trend of CEOs using similar excuses for all kinds of false moves, whether they are criminal or merely dumb.


I didn’t send you that e-mail overstating cost estimates on the project. My computer sent it! Just because I click a mouse doesn’t mean that I understand what happens next. That gong that was purchased for the office? You didn’t like that? Well, sure, I told Bob to buy it, but he used his ears to listen, and he placed the order with his phone!


Don’t blame me.


Maybe I’m just sore because, if I tried to borrow $75 million, I could promise not to use the money for margin stock, illegal drugs, pay toilets or frozen yogurt, and I don’t think anyone would give it to me. And I don’t own a company whose logo is known far and wide as “the crooked E,” which you would think might be a clue.


But if I were guilty of what Lay allegedly did, it seems a more plausible defense might go something like this:


“You’re alleging I did what? I didn’t even understand half of what you said I did, so how can you hold me responsible for it? How’ bout I just say I’m sorry, K?”


It might not work, but it would stand a better chance than blaming a pen. Then again, a guy once shot the mayor of San Francisco and got off by blaming a Twinkie. I guess I’m just not creative enough to be a successful criminal.


© 2006 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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