HOUSTON – A federal judge sentenced former Enron Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling to 24 years and four months in prison Monday for his corporate crimes, ignoring his defense team’s pleas for a lighter sentence.

Judge Sim Lake also ordered Skilling to forfeit $45 million of illegal gains during his time at Enron, a move that federal prosecutor Sean Berkowitz said leaves Skilling “with virtually no assets.”

Skilling’s lawyers immediately filed an appeal, prompting the judge to order Skilling be confined to his home during the appeal process, a process that can last months.

Lake also ordered Skilling to enroll in drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs and recommended that he eventually serve his time, if it comes to that, at the federal penitentiary at Butner, N.C., not far from Durham, a medium-security facility that has its own rehabilitation programs.

Skilling, 52, who stood trial in Houston with former Enron founder Kenneth Lay, was found guilty May on 19 counts of fraud, conspiracy and insider trading. Experts believe that the disgraced former executive could get anywhere from 20 to 30 years behind bars for his actions leading up to the bankruptcy of the once formidable energy-trading house.

Skilling worked at Enron for 11 years, culminating in his promotion to chief executive in February 2001 – a job he abruptly quit six months later as the company’s share price was plunging.

All told, Skilling sold about $62 million worth of company stock over the year leading up to Enron’s headlong plunge into Chapter 11 on Dec. 2, 2001 – at the time the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history.

Lay was convicted on 10 counts of conspiracy and fraud, but those charges were vacated and the indictment against him dropped after he died of a heart attack in July, just more than a month after he was convicted by the same jury that convicted his protege.

Daniel Petrocelli, who led the defense team, vowed to appeal Skilling’s conviction immediately after the jury handed in its verdict in May, launching a process that could last months or even years.

Prior to sentencing, Skilling and his team listened to several victims of Enron’s collapse talk about the hardships and pain they had suffered.

The bankruptcy wiped out about $68 billion in market capital, measured from Enron’s $80 peak share price in early 2001. It also left about 9,000 employees without a job, erasing retirement savings built mostly on Enron stock.

In contrast with others convicted of crimes at Enron, Skilling refused to cooperate with federal investigators or admit to any wrongdoing. He insisted throughout the trial that he was an innocent man, who struggled to keep the sinking company alive after the magnitude of accounting deceptions stitched together by former Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow came to light.

Both Skilling and Lay insisted that Fastow, who last month was sentenced to six years in prison for his misdeeds, was the real culprit behind the company’s downfall as he spun elaborate accounting schemes to hide the trading house’s mounting debt.

Attempts by the two former executives to point the blame elsewhere did not sit well with the Houston jury that convicted the pair, saying it was simply not credible that the two men charged with running the company could be so easily duped.

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