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Houston — Former Enron Corp. Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling ended the first four days of exhaustive testimony in his fraud and conspiracy trial much like he started, with an unequivocal declaration of innocence. Only this time, he said the company he once ran is right there with him. ”We are innocent. By ‘we,’ I mean Enron Corporation,” he told jurors Thursday when he wrapped up initial questioning by his lead lawyer, Daniel Petrocelli. He will return to the witness stand Monday for cross-examination. Skilling spent the week methodically swiping the government’s sprawling allegations that he and Enron founder Kenneth Lay were involved in a massive fraud that led to one of the most searing business scandals in U.S. history. But he also digressed, alternating between indignant pride and barely contained anger, railing that the government has wrongly pegged him a liar and a crook and he’s devastated the company he cherished has become a symbol for scandal. He portrayed himself and Lay as defenders of the company’s legacy. ”Enron is now used as a term for everything wrong. Not only do I not believe that, I think that’s a disservice, I think it’s incorrect. A lot of people worked at Enron, did a really good job, and worked really hard,” he said. ”Unless someone takes a stand, and I think Ken and I are taking a stand, they’re going to feel they were tricked,” Skilling said. Skilling said he was crushed, not only because Enron spiraled into bankruptcy proceedings in December 2001, but also because there had been ”a lot of damage to individuals subsequent to that, which was not a result of facts, or what really happened, but a result of rewriting of history to accomplish certain objectives people have that are not consistent with what happened in the company.” Skilling used terms like ”absolutely” when insisting allegations were untrue and ”inconceivable” when reminded of alleged skullduggery prosecution witnesses said he participated in or knew about. He insisted Enron was a ”fine company” and blasted prosecutors who say it was rife with corruption he spearheaded. ”I think they have purposely not looked at facts they should have looked at if they wanted to come to a more balanced and accurate conclusion,” Skilling declared with a hardened gaze and a stiff jaw. Michael Wynne, a former federal prosecutor in Houston who has watched most of the testimony, said Skilling’s animated efforts to teach jurors how Enron’s businesses worked ”conjured up images of `It’s a Wonderful Life,’ but Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling aren’t Jimmy Stewart.” Skilling’s mood lightened as he responded to one of the most dramatic moments of the trial that began Jan. 30. Last month Kevin Hannon, a former executive, told jurors that Skilling said, ”They’re on to us,” at a 2001 meeting, when a small analyst firm questioned Enron’s reliance on partnerships run by then-Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow to buy assets so the energy trading company could book earnings. Hannon conceded that Skilling may have been being sarcastic, reflecting his annoyance at short-sellers betting that Enron stock would fall. Skilling said Thursday that he may have said the phrase, but he was joking. He said he and Cliff Baxter, another Enron executive, used to mimic the ”Saturday Night Live” character, Mr. Bill. Skilling, imitating the high-pitched voice of the character, said Baxter may have said, ”Oh, no, Mr. Bill,” which could have prompted Skilling to say, ”Oh, no, they’re on to us,” soliciting laughter from everyone in the courtroom except prosecutors. Skilling later gave jurors a glimpse of his wealth, all frozen more than two years ago. He said he has $47 million in municipal bonds, a $5 million Houston mansion, a town house in Dallas worth $550,000 and about $600,000 in other investments. He stands to lose it all if convicted. Prosecutors allege Skilling and Lay repeatedly lied to investors and employees about Enron’s health, using false optimism to hide weak business ventures and accounting tricks to create an image of success. They attribute the failure of what was once the country’s seventh-largest company to bad publicity and lost market confidence. Skilling also denied government allegations in 10 counts of insider trading that he sold $62.6 million in stock in 2000 and 2001 based on inside information that Enron was in serious financial trouble. The first nine counts refer to trades that Skilling said were part of a program of pre-ordered sales to diversify his holdings. Skilling said he halted that program in the summer of 2001 because ”I believed this company was very strong, and the stock underreflected that strength.” The 10th count refers to the largest sale — 500,000 shares — on Sept. 17, 2001, the first day the market opened after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Skilling told the Securities and Exchange Commission that he ordered the sale in response to markets that had been roiled by the attacks. But he didn’t tell agency investigators that he tried to sell 200,000 shares several days earlier, on Sept. 6, a deal that was held up by paperwork. Skilling said Thursday — as he did on Monday when his testimony began — that he didn’t remember setting up the Sept. 6 sale. Petrocelli played an audiotape of Skilling discussing the Sept. 6 sale with his broker, Glenn Ray. ”Hold that order, and I’ll go ahead and have them send you a letter,” Skilling told Ray, referring to a letter from Enron confirming that Skilling had resigned the previous month and therefore did not have to report stock sales to the SEC. ”Apparently from the recording, I asked Mr. Ray about that, yes,” Skilling acknowledged. On the same call, Skilling discussed short-selling 800,000 shares of another energy company — AES Corp. — after criticizing short sellers hours earlier. Skilling is charged with 28 counts of fraud, conspiracy, insider trading and lying to auditors, while Lay faces six counts of fraud and conspiracy. Associated Press Writer Michael Graczyk contributed to this report.

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