SAN ANTONIO – More than 20 years after the Enron disaster, the man who first exposed the Houston-based energy company’s fraudulent deals explains why he came forward and what he hopes people will learn from the scandal.
“A lot of people were hurt,” James Timmins said.
Timmins was director of private equity at Enron when the company was synonymous with success.
“Any business unit in the world that wanted to get into that market had to go through me. So we had one voice in the public, in the institutional market…So I saw a lot of opportunities that Enron was pursuing,” he said in an in-person interview.
But Timmins’ feelings toward Enron changed in 1999, when he noticed something.
“I’ve seen too many potential frauds, personal dealings, personal enrichment at the expense of Enron shareholders,” he said.
Timmins said when the inconsistencies didn’t add up, he spoke with managers. When they disagreed, he walked away.
“I resigned because I felt that the activities carried out by a group of senior officers at Enron were potentially illegal. They were fraudulent,” he said.
But it took over a year before Timmins was right. About 18 months after leaving the company, he appeared anonymously at the Wall Street Journal and told reporters what he knew.
“I did it to put it in the public market and hold accountable those who needed to be held accountable,” Timmins said.
This marked the beginning of the end for the company.
Eventually, investigations revealed that Enron’s top executives had made millions while hiding the true financial situation of the company, which was in disarray.
At the time, Enron filed for bankruptcy in the largest corporate bankruptcy in history.
The fraud cost shareholders more than $70 billion and the company’s executives were found guilty of fraud.
Almost 20 years passed before the public learned what Timmins did.
“I felt so bad for everyone who lost so much. And for that reason… I didn’t want to make a profit. I didn’t want to come out and say I was the Wall Street Journal whistleblower,” he said.
Still, Timmins said he had no regrets.
Now he runs an investment firm in Houston and talks to business school students about his experience at Enron. He hopes they will learn from what happened.
“It’s easy to get lost,” he says. “I remember a quote from former US Senator Alan Simpson once said: ‘If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.
READ MORE: KPRC reporters reflect 20 years later
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