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Archive for Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Jury selection opens today in trial of former Westar leaders

Wittig, Lake faces charges of looting Topeka utility

October 12, 2004

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— When the trial of former Westar Energy Inc. chief executive David Wittig gets under way this week, prosecutors are sure to talk about his Ferrari and the $128,000 he spent on window treatment as they press accusations he and another executive tried to loot the largest utility in Kansas.

Jury selection in the trial of Wittig and Douglas T. Lake, the utility's former executive vice president, is scheduled to begin today in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan. Moved from Westar's base in Topeka, the trial is expected to take around 10 weeks.

Wittig, of Topeka, and Lake, of New Canaan, Conn., each face 40 counts, including conspiracy, wire fraud, falsifying books and records, and circumventing internal accounting controls.

Prosecutors contend that almost from the start of their careers at Westar -- Wittig joined the company as a vice president in 1995 and Lake came on in 1998 -- the two men engineered the "systematic looting" of the company, using Westar money to fuel their extravagant lifestyles, even as the utility's stock price and the company's overall health suffered.

The pair were indicted in December, and after almost a year of pretrial activity, their attorneys said Monday they hoped to find an impartial jury and are anxious to present their clients' case.

"After this amount of time, we're looking forward to Mr. Wittig having his day in court and the truth coming out," said Adam Hoffinger, Wittig's attorney.

Federal prosecutors, out of the office Monday in observance of Columbus Day, could not be reached.

Along with the criminal counts, prosecutors are seeking to recover $25.5 million from Wittig and $7.5 million from Lake, which represent salaries and other property received during their careers at Westar.

In the indictments, prosecutors included a list of $2 million worth of art and other property at Wittig's Topeka mansion they want him to hand over.

They also provided a glimpse into what prosecutors say was Wittig's exuberant spending: $282,536 for audiovisual equipment, $269,047 for carpets, $127,898 for window treatments, $15,000 for a pool table and $1,514 for a towel stand.

Many of the charges are based on information included in a 376-page internal investigation into the conduct of Wittig and Lake that Westar released last year.

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