Nation briefs 06/27/03

Friday, June 27, 2003

Labor Department suing Enron over pension losses

WASHINGTON -- The Labor Department sued Enron and former executives and directors Thursday, including President Bush's friend and contributor Kenneth Lay, for allegedly violating pension laws and hurting Enron employees by mismanaging retirement plans full of overpriced company stock.

In the civil lawsuit, the government is seeking to recover hundreds of millions of dollars in retirement money that employees lost when the energy-trading company careered toward bankruptcy in late 2001 and the stock collapsed. The employees were not told about the company's deteriorating finances and were blocked for a time from selling the declining Enron stock in their retirement accounts.

It was the government's first legal action against Lay, who had been Enron's chairman, and former chief executive Jeffrey Skilling. The highest-ranking Enron executive charged to date in the corporate scandal is former chief financial officer Andrew Fastow, who faces nearly 100 criminal charges including fraud, money laundering, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Fastow has pleaded innocent and is free on $5 million bond as he awaits trial.

Solar airplane crashes during test flight off Kauai

HONOLULU -- An unmanned plane that set an altitude record two years ago broke apart during a test flight Thursday and crashed into the Pacific Ocean, NASA officials said.

The remotely piloted, one-of-a-kind Helios Prototype crashed off Kauai within the testing area of the Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said in a news release.

The $15 million, solar-electric, propeller-driven Helios had a wingspan of 247 feet and looked more like a flying wing than a conventional plane.

It reached an altitude of 96,500 feet during a 2001 flight from Barking Sands. The altitude, about 18 miles, was considered by NASA to be a record for a nonrocket-powered winged aircraft.

Helios crashed about a half-hour into Thursday's flight, which was intended to test its fuel cell system.

Peterson testimony delayed until September

MODESTO, Calif. -- Scott Peterson's preliminary hearing in the slaying of his pregnant wife, Laci, was postponed Thursday until September.

The preliminary hearing in the widely publicized case had been scheduled for July 16-18, but prosecutors said witnesses were not available next month, and defense attorneys agreed to the change.

If Judge Al Girolami keeps the Sept. 9 hearing open to the public, as prosecutors want, it will be the first time that evidence in the case has been discussed in open court.

The hearing will determine whether Peterson, 30, should stand trial. He has is charged with two counts of murder in the slaying of his wife and unborn son and could get the death penalty if convicted.

The fertilizer salesman was arrested after the remains of his wife and son washed ashore in April in San Francisco Bay, near where he said he was fishing when she disappeared Christmas Eve.

-- From wire reports

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