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Toobin: Ex-Enron execs going to jail for many years

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CNN's Jeffrey Toobin

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(CNN) -- Enron founder Kenneth Lay and former Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Skilling were convicted of conspiracy and fraud Thursday in connection with the energy giant's collapse in 2001.

Skilling was found guilty on 19 counts of conspiracy, fraud, false statements and insider trading. He was found not guilty on nine counts of insider trading.

Lay was found guilty on all six counts of conspiracy and fraud. In a separate bench trial, Judge Sim Lake ruled Lay was guilty of four counts of fraud and false statements.

Both Lay and Skilling could face 20 to 30 years in prison, legal experts say.

CNN's Daryn Kagan spoke Thursday with CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin to put the government's win in perspective.

KAGAN: Jeffrey, [is there] any other way to say it except a slam-dunk for the government?

TOOBIN: Slam-dunk in terms of the results; slam-dunk not in terms of the process. This was not an easy case for the government. This is a tremendous victory for the Department of Justice.

These prosecutors did a fabulous job pulling this case together. It took a long time. It's been four years since Enron collapsed. That's a long time ... for an investigation and a case to come to trial. But they did it. And the result is a slam-dunk. But they had to defeat an enormously well-funded defense effort and a very complicated set of facts. I think it's just a tremendous tribute to the prosecutors.

KAGAN: The next phase will be the sentencing phase. The days that white-collar criminals got a slap on the wrist, especially of this high caliber, those days are long gone, aren't they, Jeff?

TOOBIN: Long gone. The one thing that Lay and Skilling somewhat have going for them is that the federal sentencing guidelines are no longer mandatory. Judges are suggested to follow them; most judges do. But if they had been mandatory, there would have been no doubt that both of them would be serving decades in prison.

... But frankly, given the magnitude of this crime, given the fact that the jury found, in essence, that both of them lied on the witness stand repeatedly, I don't think the judge is going to feel much sympathy for them. So I think they're going to go to jail for many years, both of them.

KAGAN: Just so you know their ages, Jeffrey Skilling is 52, and Ken Lay is 64. It's possible, depending on the sentence, how it works out, these men could be going to prison for the rest of their lives.

TOOBIN: It is indeed quite probable. And that's a chilling thought, but Congress, when they made these sentencing laws, they really thought that white-collar crime needed to be punished severely. The bigger the crime, the bigger the stakes, the longer the sentence. And this was seventh -- the No. 7 on the Fortune 500 that just sort of disappeared in a matter of a couple of weeks. It was a big deal.

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