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Archive for Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Judge delays trial for former Westar executives

July 28, 2004

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— A federal judge has agreed to postpone the criminal fraud trial of David Wittig and another former Westar Energy Inc. executive until Oct. 12, parties involved in the case said Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson had a telephone conference call with both the U.S. Attorney's Office for Kansas and lawyers representing Wittig, formerly Westar's chief executive officer, and Douglas T. Lake, the company's former executive vice president.

The trial had been scheduled to start Sept. 7 in Kansas City, Kan.

"The defense needed more time to prepare," Gaye Tibbets, a Wichita attorney representing Lake, said during a telephone interview.

Wittig, of Topeka, and Lake, of New Canaan, Conn., each face 40 charges, including conspiracy, wire fraud and falsifying records. A federal grand jury indicted them in December and issued a revised indictment this month.

Prosecutors accuse Wittig and Lake of trying to loot Westar even as its financial performance suffered. The two men pleaded innocent to the original indictment and are scheduled to appear in court Aug. 11 in Kansas City, Kan., to answer the revised charges.

In agreeing to a new trial date, Robinson did not go as far as Wittig and Lake had sought. They had wanted her to postpone the proceedings until after they appealed one of her pretrial decisions.

Robinson has refused to allow Wittig and Lake to use payments from Westar to finance their defense. The two men are in arbitration with the company about how much it owes them under employment agreements. Robinson has said she wanted to preserve assets that the government wanted to seize if they were convicted.

Wittig and Lake are appealing Robinson's decision to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and argued in documents filed earlier this month that the appellate court should consider the issue before the trial begins.

Prosecutors hope to recover $25.5 million from Wittig and $7.5 million from Lake. Meanwhile, in arbitration with Westar, Wittig claims that Westar owes him $110 million and Lake is seeking $70 million.

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