The death Wednesday of Kenneth Lay, the founder and former chairman and CEO of Enron Corp., means any restitution in the criminal case will probably be vacated and the future of the Securities and Exchange Commission and civil cases will be more difficult to pursue, according to attorneys following the case.

“It’s a tragic end to a tragic story,” said Kirby Behre, a former federal prosecutor and now partner at Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker in Washington. “You don’t have to be doctor to know that he was under a lot of stress. The sentencing won’t go forward, mooted by his death, but the more interesting issue will be seizure and now forfeiture of the assets — do they transfer to his wife? Even if they pass to a spouse or family, they’re still attachable and still forfeitable to the government.”

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