Kenneth L. Lay, who rose from humble roots to found what was, at the time, the seventh-largest publicly traded company in Enron, only to later become a symbol of corporate greed and malfeasance, died of a heart attack at his vacation home here.
He was 64.Lay, along with former Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling, was convicted in May in a Houston court of conspiracy, securities fraud and wire fraud stemming from the mammoth 2001 collapse of the energy-trading concern.
The Enron debacle, and later, the $11 billion bankruptcy at WorldCom, helped sparked the 2002 passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act as well as a series of corporate reforms that included the creation of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board.
Lay faced a potential 45-year prison term.
A native of Tyrone, Mo., Lay's father ran a general store and sold stoves before becoming a minister. The younger Lay attended the University of Missouri and following his graduation, went to work for Humble Oil & Refining -- one of the predecessor companies acquired byExxon Mobil.
He joined the Navy served as undersecretary for the Department of the Interior before he became an executive at both Florida Gas and Transco Energy in Houston. He eventually became chief executive of Houston Natural Gas, which later merged with InterNorth in Omaha, Neb., to form Enron.
Enron, which under Lay's aegis evolved from an energy pipeline concern to a complex conglomerate trading energy futures and boasted a market cap approaching $70 billion, collapsed amidst a series of fraudulent off-balance-sheet partnerships that masked billion in losses from employees and investors.
During the four-month trial, both Lay and Skilling maintained their innocence claiming that the company's collapse was due to negative publicity and a jittery stock market.
Skilling, who was convicted of 18 counts of fraud and conspiracy and one count of insider trading, is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 23.
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