A federal judge handed down a 24-year sentence yesterday under tough new rules intended to punish white-collar criminals.
Jamie Olis, once a midlevel executive at Houston-based energy company Dynegy Inc., and two former associates were found guilty last year of disguising a $300 million loan to the company as cash flow. The transaction took place in 2001, when many energy companies were struggling with the aftermath of the collapse of Enron Corp.
Olis and his co-conspirators — his former boss, Gene Shannon Foster, and a former Dynegy accountant, Helen Christine Sharkey — were charged in June 2003, according to the Associated Press. Foster and Sharkey each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy in August, added the AP. When Olis decided to take his chances at trial, Foster testified against him in November.
The 38-year-old Olis, who has a wife and an infant daughter, did not enter into a plea agreement. The New York Times noted that since Olis devised the accounting scheme with a small group of associates, “he could not pass the blame up to his superiors and testify against them in exchange for leniency.”
Olis could have been sentenced to a total of 35 years after being found guilty of one count each of conspiracy, securities fraud, and mail fraud and three counts of wire fraud, reported the Times. Nonetheless, his sentence is far longer than that handed down in many more-notorious cases.
For example, former CFO Andrew Fastow is expected to be sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in the massive fraud at Enron — but then again, Fastow is cooperating with Enron Task Force prosecutors. (Fastow’s attorney, David Gerger, will also represent Olis in his planned appeal.)
“I take no pleasure in sentencing you to 292 months,” stated U.S. District Judge Sim Lake, according to the AP. “Sometimes good people commit bad acts, and that’s what happened in this case.” (Judge Lake, it should also be noted, is presiding over the case involving former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling.)
The Associated Press also points out that since there is no parole in the federal prison system, Olis will be required to serve nearly his entire term behind bars. Observed Lake from the bench, the prison term “reflects Congress’ intent that white-collar corporate fraud defendants receive harsh sentences,” reported the AP.