Former Westar executives to be in court today

Wittig, Lake face charges including conspiracy, fraud

? Accused of trying to plunder the state’s largest electric company, former Westar Energy Inc. chief executive David Wittig and another former executive are schedule to make their first appearances today on a 40-count federal indictment.

The hearing for Wittig and Douglas T. Lake, formerly Westar’s executive vice president and chief strategic officer, is set for 11 a.m. in Kansas City, Kan., before U.S. Magistrate James P. O’Hara. Such hearings allow defendants to hear the charges against them.

Prosecutors have accused Wittig, 48, of Topeka, and Lake, 53, of New Canaan, Conn., of committing conspiracy, fraud and other crimes. The two men, prosecutors charge, sought to loot their company of millions of dollars as its debt soared to more than $3 billion and its stock tumbled to less than $9 a share.

The indictment also charges Wittig and Lake with trying to cover up their actions, in part through intimidation and spying; it says both men “perverted corporate programs for their own personal profit.”

Lake’s attorney has suggested the criminal case stems from an ongoing employment dispute between Wittig, Lake and Westar about $102 million in past compensation and future payments that could be owed the men under contracts with the company.

Wittig resigned as chief executive officer in November 2002 to defend himself against separate federal charges involving a $1.5 million personal loan he received in 2001. He was convicted earlier this year and his sentencing is set for Feb. 27.

Lake left the company in December 2002. Westar’s board of directors said then he was on indefinite administrative leave, but Lake’s attorneys have since said he was fired.