Topeka 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.
The fall of David Wittig
- 6News video: Former Westar executives receive punishments
- Wittig is sentenced to 18 years
- Prison requested by Wittig not lavish
- Wittig-Westar timeline
- Photo gallery: Wittig House
- Court orders resentencing in Wittig bank loan case (02-17-06)
- Judge sends Wittig to federal prison (01-18-06)
- Wittig guilty: Co-defendant acquitted on 9 counts (09-13-05)
- Retrial of Westar executives begins (06-22-05)
- Judge declares mistrial in Westar officials' case (12-21-04)
- Federal fraud trial opens for Wittig, partner (10-20-04)
- Wittig gets four-year sentence for loan conspiracy (02-28-04)
- Past stories about Wittig, Westar
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.
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
Restitution paid by Wittig
Restitution paid by Lake
Fines each for Wittig and Lake
years in prison for Wittig
years in prison for Lake