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Archive for Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Wittig is sentenced to 18 years

Former Westar leaders’ greed was unbridled, judge says

April 4, 2006

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— Worse than Enron.

That's how U.S. District Court Judge Julie Robinson on Monday described the Westar Energy scandal as she sentenced former Westar chief executive officer David Wittig to 18 years in prison and former executive vice president Douglas Lake to 15 years.

"The defendants' greed was unbridled," Robinson said. "It was all about them and their compensation."

She added: "These defendants are flawed individuals. They need significant time in prison."

Robinson said she could have given each man up to life in prison for looting the company of millions of dollars, but wanted to allow them "daylight at the end."

Wittig, who is already imprisoned, sat through the day-long hearing in an orange jumpsuit and ankle chains. He will appeal, along with Lake.

Neither man spoke to the court when given the opportunity, nor did they show emotion. Through his attorneys, Wittig said he was grateful to his family and friends.

Fines and restitution

Wittig, 50, spent much of the day in court listening, writing down notes and conferring with attorneys. Lake, 55, of New Canaan, Conn., dressed in a suit and tie, spoke little.

Robinson also ordered Wittig to pay $14.5 million in restitution to Westar, and Lake, $2.8 million. Both men were fined $5 million each.

The sentences followed conviction in September on charges of defrauding Westar, falsifying records, circumventing internal controls and money laundering.

Wittig and Lake were forced out of Westar in 2002 after being accused of engineering extravagant salaries and benefits for themselves and hiding their actions from the company's board of directors and federal regulators.

They "used Westar as their own bank account or source of funds to have fun with," Robinson said.

The financially sound company started to crater under Wittig and Lake, and their plans to further loot Westar were stopped when the Kansas Corporation Commission rejected a proposed merger that would have spun off company debts onto ratepayers, she said.

Attorneys seek leniency

But attorneys for Wittig and Lake asked Robinson for leniency, claiming their clients were decent men who were already chastened, and that the government overstated its case.

"He's lost his name, he's lost his reputation, he's lost his family home," said Lisa Cahill, an attorney for Lake. "He worked 24/7. This man devoted his life to the company."

Paula Junghans, an attorney for Wittig, said: "We know that David made mistakes of ambition, of arrogance perhaps, of living large. We ask that you punish David, not destroy him."

But prosecutor Richard Hathaway said "compensation was thought about 24/7 by these individuals."

He noted that Wittig was currently in federal prison in Leavenworth for violating his term of release in another case after he was found making numerous financial transactions without the court's approval, which was required under his bond agreement.

"He does what he wants when he wants if it benefits him at the time," Hathaway said.

And Robinson complained several times through the hearing that Lake failed to provide required financial records needed to complete a presentencing recommendation.

Appeal planned

Attorney Seth Waxman and others argued that Wittig and Lake should be allowed to be free on bond pending their appeal because they were not dangers to society, nor flight risks and that their cases had a good chance of being overturned.

"The difference between theft and compensation is approval," Waxman said, noting the Westar board approved Wittig's perks. But Robinson said approval from the board is not a defense if the board is misled.

Robinson rejected allowing the defendants to remain free on bond. She also rejected a plea from Wittig's attorneys for him to spend some time with his family before going back to prison.

"He sits in an orange jumpsuit today by choice," she said.

She did allow Lake to surrender to authorities once the government picks a prison for him. That should take two months.

Robinson warned Lake, "If you run, this prosecutor will find you."

Lake wants to be housed at a minimum security prison in Fairton, N.J., and Wittig wants to be at the Federal Medical Center at Ayers, Mass., because his family is relocating near there, and he wants to help inmates in the hospital, his attorneys said.

Robinson said because of the severity of the sentences she doubted the defendants would be placed at those facilities by the Bureau of Prisons.

After the hearing, U.S. Atty. Eric Melgren said he saw no remorse on the part of Wittig and Lake.

"To this day, I do not believe that they think they've engaged in any kind of improper conduct," Melgren said after the sentencing.

Court observer Deanna Gee, of Topeka, said Wittig and Lake should have gotten tougher sentences.

The Westar scandal "was an embarrassment to our state," Gee said. She also complained about the Wittigs buying and renovating the Landon Mansion, the former home of Gov. Alf Landon in Topeka. "They took a wonderful landmark and destroyed it. Now it's a big monster," she said.

By the numbers

$14.5M

Restitution paid by Wittig

$2.8M

Restitution paid by Lake

$5M

Fines each for Wittig and Lake

18

years in prison for Wittig

15

years in prison for Lake

Comments

cutny 8 years, 8 months ago

Yes, let's have him appeal so he can waste some more government money while the government fights it. Somehow, you always knew you'd see this one on his way down. Burn and learn Wittig.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 8 months ago

"We need to keep taking these scumbags down, one by one if necessary."

Tom DeLay needs to be in prison cell right next to him, probably along with a goodly percentage of Republicans in Congress. Likely more than a few Democrats belong there, too. They are part of the system that allows the Wittigs of the corporate world get away with murder. Wittig is just unlucky enough to have gotten caught.

badger 8 years, 8 months ago

rightthinker -

I agree. They always do. Seems like both parties have the wonderful problem of not ever being able to keep clean long enough to capitalize when the other one gets tagged for corruption.

These days it's the right's turn to get hit with stuff, but I'm sure that within a year, we'll all be shaking our heads and tsking about a Democratic politician getting caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar.

I figure a lot of it has to do with the domino effect. This time, it started with people on the right, so everyone they touched got investigated, and investigations of fraud in DC are like investigations of fish in the Lake of the Ozarks. You don't have to look very far or work very hard to turn up some nice fat bottom-feeders. Another time, it'll start with someone on the left and work that way. Doesn't mean there's not corruption on the left right now or won't be corruption on the right later, just that the focus of 'who gets caught' changes...

samsnewplace 8 years, 8 months ago

So what's wrong with giving these crooks life? I have no problem with criminals getting the maximum sentence, why give them a break....what did they do to deserve a lesser sentence? Let them rot is what I say!!

JJH1213 8 years, 8 months ago

If approval of the Board is not a defense given the Board was misled as per "Judge Julie", then the Board should be put on trial. She has a screw loose if she really believed these Board members, who are owners of businesses, national savings & loans, etc. didn't know what was going on. The Judge WILL be overturned on appeal, just as she was in Weidner's case. P.S. the defendants were crooks, but the punishment has to fit the crime, it doesn't now but an appealant judge will make it. I don't wish to pay for 33 years of incarceration for the greed of two people. For you Republican haters, get a life.

Linda Aikins 8 years, 8 months ago

There it is! "Get a life." At 11:51 a.m.

That has to be a record for the longest time we wait for one.

Selfish 8 years, 8 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

samsnewplace 8 years, 8 months ago

JJH1213.....do you think you are the only man in the country who pays his taxes? And you will pay for not only their greed but anyone else's that decides to become a crook and get caught. You really have little control over whom "you" pay for with "your" tax money. There are alot worse than these two "you" are paying money on, get over yourself.

Tony Kisner 8 years, 8 months ago

The board of directors needs to be on this prosecutor's plate next. They have a fiduciary duty to the shareholders and employees of the company and failed miserably. The money was stolen but it was stolen in bright sunshine while the BOD looked the other way. I believe that includes a president of the largest S&L in the State and the past Chancellor of the largest University in the State. Put these people in front of a jury and future incidents of this kind will lessen.

wheremyshoes 8 years, 8 months ago

Wit wants to go to a hospital so he can help the infirm. This was his plan from the start. Steal millions, get convicted, and try to get into a state medical ward as a way of helping people. You go Wit.

cutny 8 years, 8 months ago

I want to see him in his orange jumpsuit. I don't know why the LJW did him the courtesy of running a stock photo. It gives the impression that he is merely a defendant, and not a convicted felon.

Godot 8 years, 8 months ago

I agree with Easy Does It. The board was grossly negligent, for sure. I'd like to see an investigation to see if they were complicit, as well.

maybebaby 8 years, 8 months ago

Ask anyone who ever was around Wetting for much time - he is one of the MOST egotistical arrogant rude people ever. No one who worked around him or for him was/is surprised to find out that he thought he was above the law. One has to hope he has learned hard and valuable lessons about greed, truth, and pride; but it's highly doubtful.

JJH1213 8 years, 8 months ago

To samsnewplace: Not the only one who pays taxes but read my original post, 33 years will be thrown out, she has been overturned before because she doesn't understand the sentencing guidelines. I'll get over myself however I doubt you can: "let them rot is what 'I' say" who gives a flip what YOU say?

Charles L Bloss Jr 8 years, 8 months ago

I'm sorry to say, no it didn't wipe the smirk off of his face. It should have, but it didn't. He wants to go to a federal medical prison so he can help other inmates, give me a break. He will help them alright, probably teaching classes on how to steal and almost get away with it. This guy got off way to light. His sentence should have been more like 40 years. When the dust settles, I think you will see major mistakes by this judge. I don't know if any of you are aware of it, but this arrogant jerk paid to have the city of Topeka lay a larger water line to his mansion because his swimming pool was filling to slow to suit him. The federal sentencing grid said Wittig should have life, but the judge made all his sentences in various cases be served concurrently, rather than consecutively. In other words he would have had a much longer, and well deserved, total time behind bars had the sentences been served consecutively. Why would a judge do that when the sentencing grid said he should serve life? There is something in the woodpile, that ought not to be there. Mark my words, there is lots yet to come out about this case, the judges actions and mistakes. Thank you, Lynn

terrapin2 8 years, 8 months ago

Lynn731 You might want to check your facts. The Wittig's don't even own a swimming pool so your story about a water line is wrong, wrong, wrong.

You are right about more coming out about the actions of the judge and the prosecution. This was not a fair trial in so many ways, and the appellate court's decisions will ultimately reflect that.

terrapin2 8 years, 8 months ago

maybebaby Considering you can't even spell his name correctly, I seriously doubt you have spent any time, much less enough time to actually make an informed decision regarding his personality. You people seem to make judgements about people pretty easily. You can't believe everything you read in the paper. There is a lot more to this story than any of you know. I also know that a lot will come out about the mistakes made in this case, but it won't increase his sentence, it will overturn it.

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