The Enron prosecution team is deciding where they want to go next, now that they've gotten a pretty good picture of how it all went down. The main question at this point is who's next, and who's after that.
"Obviously, the most important thing for a prosecutor is how strong your case is against any one defendant," said Dan Hedges, a defense attorney and the former U.S. attorney in Houston. "The evidence is more important than who the defendant is. The ultimate disaster is to go against a big fish and lose."
The Enron Task Force has been running many parallel investigations, including some that target former chairman Ken Lay -- over his stock trades and loans he repaid to Enron with stock -- and ex-president Jeff Skilling -- over questions about his possible role in exaggerating company finances and the feasibility of Enron's broadband business.
"It's a question of resources. You don't -- and the court doesn't want you to -- bring 50 cases," Hedges said. "You start higher up with the good cases. If there aren't good cases against those higher up, that endangers the people lower down."
Prosecutors must now weigh an individual's culpability, prior crimes and cooperation, along with the seriousness of the offense and how complicated the case will be. They also have to make the caseload manageable.
"The government has to maximize its resources, which is why you often see them charge the most visible people first, hoping others may fall in line," said defense attorney and former federal prosecutor Philip Hilder. He represents several Enron employees, including former vice president Sherron Watkins, who wrote the now-famous memo to Lay warning him of financial improprieties.
Hilder noted that prosecutors may pursue only the cream of the cases now but could charge bit players later. "There are rumblings that they may use obstruction of justice, perjury, making false statement and tax counts against many, but that could be done later," Hilder said.