The conspiracy and fraud convictions this past Thursday of the top two former Enron Corp. executives score a major victory in the federal government's years-long drive to clean up America's publicly-traded companies.

Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling's sentencing will come Sept. 11. Mr. Lay, the former Enron Chairman, faces up to 165 years in jail. Mr. Skilling, the former chief executive officer, faces 185 years in prison.

The verdicts, coming after a four-month criminal trial, will give former employees some sense of justice and closure but it can never correct the workers' losses.

The government estimates the Houston-based energy trading company's collapse in 2001 wiped out about $60 billion in market share and 5,600 jobs. Those workers lost $2.1 billion in pension plans as much of their retirement accounts were invested in Enron.

The hidden message behind the Enron convictions is that corruption, fueled by personal greed, can be found at all levels of business. Unconfronted by auditors, accountants, federal prosecutors and supervising board members, the chicanery becomes accepted. Executives thinking about cutting corners will remember the two executives and their fate.

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