It's been an astonishing turn of events for Enron's former CEO, the 48-year-old Jeffrey Skilling.
Just a few months ago, no praise was too lavish, no goal too lofty, for the swashbuckling energy entrepreneur who sent Enron stock soaring — and then walked away with at least $69 million from sales of company shares.
But after the company's $60 billion implosion, the headlines are different for Skilling, who's been holed up in his multimillion-dollar Houston mansion since December, and who now is in Capitol Hill's sights as Congress presses hearings into the company's collapse.
Skilling blames Enron's collapse on an unfortunate series of events. But congressional investigators point out he was at the energy company's helm at the time during this "perfect storm."
"You still have to sail the boat into the wrong place very assiduously to get it caught in this kind of a storm," said Rep. James Greenwood, R-Pa., chairman of a House subcommittee investigating the firm.
Congressional investigators want to know about Skilling's knowledge of Enron's secret partnerships, which eventually sank the company. New documents show Skilling did not put his signature on the deals, even though he was urged to do so by a company lawyer. Some say Skilling did not want his fingerprints on the deals, some of which may have been illegal.
"We know that a lot of people who were in high places in Enron knew that the books were cooked," charged Greenwood, "and we know that it is illegal to cook the books."
Brilliant … and Obsessed, Say Those Who Know Him
You hear two things when you ask friends and colleagues about Jeff Skilling. He's brilliant — and obsessed with the markets. A budding entrepreneur in high school in Auora, Ill. — he worked for a start-up TV station — by the time he reached Harvard Business School his market mentality made him a standout.
"Jeff was possessed with a genuine, passionate, dogmatic zeal about what free markets can do in the energy world," recalled Jeffrey Sonnenfeld of the Yale School of Management.
Skilling, taped for a FrontLine documentary for WGBH-TV Boston, had this to say: "In open, competitive fair markets, prices are lower and customers get better service." Asked by the interviewer: "You're the good guys?" Skilling responded: "We are the good guys. … We are on the side of the angels."
If the angels were holding Enron stock, then maybe … for a time. The price leapt as Skilling turned the gas pipeline company into a global energy trading giant.
The high stock prices "were an addiction," one former employee told us. And many insist Skilling, as the architect of the new Enron, had to have known about the secret partnerships which hid the true state of the company.
That despite statements like this, which he made last February: "The company has got some very strong growth prospects. It's growing very quickly, very strong balance sheets, strong financial capability."
But inside Enron, Skilling was viewed as a charismatic leader, roaming the halls to spread his new ethos and lingo — his so-called "loose-tight" management style which encouraged risk-taking — and a less popular "rank and yank" review program, which eliminated low-rated employees.
"He felt people needed challenges," remembers Marge Nadasky, a former Enron employee, "needed to be pushed to perform at the top of their capability."
ABCNEWS' Claire Shipman contributed to this report.