Former Enron employees surrounded by legacy of collapse

Former Enron marketing services manager Lisa Feener holds a cigar with an Enron logo, part of her collection of memorabilia, as she reminisces about the company that collapsed 10 years ago.

Associated Press

Former Enron marketing services manager Lisa Feener holds a cigar with an Enron logo, part of her collection of memorabilia, as she reminisces about the company that collapsed 10 years ago.

HOUSTON — Former Enron Corp. employee George Maddox, who lost his retirement savings when the energy giant collapsed, says he has been forced to spend his golden years making ends meet by mowing pastures and living in a run-down East Texas farmhouse.

Maddox, who served 30 years as a plant manager with the company, was long retired as Enron hit bankruptcy on Dec. 2, 2001. With all his retirement savings tied up in 14,000 shares of company stock, then worth more than $1.3 million, Maddox says he never saw the crash coming.

"There was no way I thought it would go belly up," said Maddox, 78.

Ten years after what was the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history at the time, Maddox and other former workers of the Houston-based company remain angry about the scheming and deceit that led to its spectacular downfall. But most have tried to move on.

Eric Eden, who ran Enron's computer drafting department, started a company to manufacture his invention — an underground lawn sprinkler he eventually sold nationwide.

Once the nation's seventh-largest company, Enron plunged into bankruptcy proceedings after years of accounting tricks could no longer hide billions in debt or make failing ventures appear profitable. The collapse wiped out thousands of jobs, more than $60 billion in market value and more than $2 billion in pension plans.

Several top executives, including ex-CEO Jeffrey Skilling, landed in prison for their roles in a scheme to manipulate the company's earnings and stock price by lying to employees and investors about its financial health. They were accused of using accounting tricks and complex financial structures to create an illusion of success.

"Enron wasn't evil . . . A few individuals were corrupt, but not the entire company," said Karen Hunter, who lost her job in Enron's international marketing section and eventually found new work in marketing.

Maddox's anger is directed particularly at three of the 24 Enron executives who were convicted in the scandal: Skilling; founder Kenneth Lay; and Andrew Fastow, the ex-chief financial officer and architect behind financial schemes that doomed the company.

Skilling remains in prison awaiting resentencing after an appeals court overturned his 24-year sentence and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to overturn his convictions. Lay's convictions were vacated after he died of heart disease following his 2006 trial.

Fastow is serving the remainder of a six-year prison term in home confinement in Houston and is set to be released Dec. 17. He works as a document review clerk for the Houston law firm that represented him in civil cases.

"I can't hate them for sure. I believe in forgiveness, but I'm still mad at them," Maddox said.

After his Enron retirement became worthless, Maddox and his wife, Phyllis, had to lease their suburban Houston home and move to an old family farmhouse in the town of Van. They also went back to work. Phyllis Maddox developed liver cancer and died in 2008. George Maddox used $26,000 he received from a lawsuit by ex-workers to get back some of their retirement savings to pay his wife's medical bills. Now he raises his 14-year-old grandson by himself.

Lisa Feener was manager of marketing services from 1989 until being laid off just before the bankruptcy. She still has some fond memories of the company, which she said treated its employees fairly and gave back to the community.

"Every single person, even the people who we don't think have paid enough, have paid," said Feener, who returned to Enron from 2002 through 2007, helping to sell the company's assets.

Eden, 43, said losing his Enron job helped give him the push needed to start his company, Watering Made Easy.

"I don't look back and wish Enron was still here," he said. "There is a way of life after Enron."

Former Enron employees surrounded by legacy of collapse 11/30/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 10:45pm]

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