HOUSTON — A former Enron Corp. executive who reportedly complained about the company’s questionable accounting practices and resigned last May was found shot to death in a car Friday, an apparent suicide.
J. Clifford Baxter, a 43-year-old former vice chairman of the energy giant, was discovered dead in a Mercedes-Benz parked on a median not far from his home in the Houston suburb of Sugar Land. He had been shot in the head.
Police said a suicide note was found. Its contents were not disclosed.
Baxter resigned several months before Enron’s collapse in the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history. Enron’s sudden downfall and accounting practices are being investigated by federal prosecutors, the FBI, securities regulators and 11 congressional committees and subcommittees.
The House Energy and Commerce committee had asked to interview Baxter.
He had not been subpoenaed, and no date had been set for an interview. He had also been named in a federal lawsuit accusing him and other Enron executives of reaping huge profits on Enron stock before its collapse.
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of our friend and colleague, Cliff Baxter. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends,” the company said in a statement.
Enron spokesman Mark Palmer had no additional comment.
Baxter was identified by name in the explosive warning that Enron executive Sherron Watkins wrote last August to company chairman Ken Lay.
“Cliff Baxter complained mightily to (then-CEO Jeff) Skilling and all who would listen about the inappropriateness of our transactions with LJM,” Watkins wrote. LJM is one of the partnerships that were used to keep half a billion dollars in losses off Enron’s books.
Watkins’ letter to Lay warned that “we will implode in a wave of accounting scandals” unless the company changed its ways.
Thousands of Enron workers eventually lost their jobs and watched their retirement savings all but evaporate after the company disclosed the losses. Enron chairman Kenneth Lay, one of President Bush’s strongest supporters, resigned this week.
Baxter was one of 29 former and current Enron executives and board members named as defendants in a shareholder lawsuit that alleges they made $1.1 billion by selling Enron stock between October 1998 and November 2001. The lawsuit said Baxter had sold 577,436 shares for $35.2 million.
His body was found around 2:30 a.m. by a police officer checking on a car parked in a residential area. He was in the driver’s seat, shot with a revolver. The ID he was carrying indicated he worked for Enron.
Jim Richard, a Fort Bend County justice of the peace, ruled Baxter’s death a suicide but ordered an autopsy as a precaution.
Baxter’s family could not be reached for comment. A woman answering the telephone at the home hung up.
At the time his resignation was announced, Enron said Baxter’s primary motive was to spend more time with his family.
Skilling himself abruptly resigned in August, citing personal reasons. Skillling was “absolutely devastated at the loss of a very good friend,” said his spokeswoman, Judy Leon.
Baxter had joined Enron in 1991 and was chairman and CEO of Enron North America before being named chief strategy officer for Enron Corp. in June 2000 and vice chairman in October 2000, the company said.
He was born in Amityville, N.Y., and graduated from New York University. He was a captain in the Air Force from 1980 to 1985 and received an MBA from Columbia University in 1987, according to the company.