Lea Fastow will get one year in Club Fed after pleading guilty to a single misdemeanor charge.
"I've made an error in judgment that I will always regret for the rest of my life," she told U.S. District Judge David Hittner, who overruled prosecutors' request for five months in prison and five months of supervision.
Surrounded by tearful family and friends, the 42-year-old mother, one-time socialite and former assistant treasurer for Enron dissolved into tears after the judge left the courtroom. She was not immediately put behind bars but will turn herself in to a federal prison when the Bureau of Prisons decides where she will go. Fastow's attorney, Mike DeGeurin, said she's been anxious all along to go sooner rather than later, "to get this behind us, get on with our lives."
Lea Fastow pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of willfully delivering a joint 2000 tax form reporting more than $48 million in income to the Internal Revenue Service, even though she knew it to be fraudulent.
Unlike a previous plea bargain rejected by Hittner last month, today's misdemeanor conviction means Fastow, a finance expert who plans to obtain a nursing degree, will not be barred from jobs that ban convicted felons. In her original plea bargain, she pleaded guilty to a tax felony.
Hittner chastised prosecutors for vascillating between an original indictment of six felonies and a final indictment of just one misdemeanor, suggesting that justice may not have been served in either instance.
"Such maneuvering as is present in this case might be seen as a blatant manipulation of the justice system," Hittner said.
It is very unusual for federal prosecutors to knock six felony counts down to one misdemeanor charge, several legal experts said. They said this deal suggests that those who believed Lea Fastow was charged just to help prosecutors get her husband were right.
Andrew Fastow, originally charged with 98 counts, pleaded guilty to two felony charges on Jan. 14 -- the same day that his wife did the first time around -- and faces a maximum 10-year prison term for his role in fraud at scandal-ridden Enron. His cooperation with the government has already bolstered cases against ex-Chief Executive Officer Jeff Skilling and ex-top accounting officer Rick Causey.
Indeed, in maintaining that the reduced charges were within the discretion of prosecutors, government attorney Linda Lacewell told the judge there were many reasons to back off, including saving resources and "enabling us to go up the chain in the company."
"We do not do this lightly," Lacewell said. "We do it rarely. We believe what we have done is appropriate and that it is just."