It may be too little too late, but Andersen lawyers have been busy this week hammering out a deal with prosecutors that forces the firm to admit guilt in shredding Enron-related documents, but allows it to avoid a criminal trial -- or declare bankruptcy.

According to a consultant familiar with the negotiations, Andersen is ready to admit that it criminally shredded documents related to its audit of Enron and will help the Justice Department build a case against Enron executives.

Andersen is essentially considering what is known as a "deferred prosecution agreement" which allows the firm to avoid immediate charges and in effect be on probation for several years. If, during that time, Andersen violates the agreement or broke any laws, the indictment could then be brought to trial and the firm’s admission used as evidence against it. But once the probationary period passes, the indictment would be dismissed

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