DoL Inquiry Focuses on Participant Trading Blackout

January 24, 2002 ( - Department of Labor (DoL) officials now have the transaction blackout Enron imposed on its retirement plan participants under a microscope to see if the beleaguered Houston energy trader committed any wrongdoing.

That’s at least partly because the blackout has become a chief complaint by many former Enron employees who say they were encouraged to load up on company stock. They have charged in a flurry of lawsuits and elsewhere that they suffered tremendous financial harm when the stock’s value was plummeting out of control without their ability to sell shares.

Despite the continuing controversy over Enron’s blackout, Assistant Labor Secretary Ann Combs said such freezes “are very common” when plans change recordkeepers. But those responsible are required to protect the participants and beneficiaries, she said.

DoL Releases Enron Stats

Also Thursday, officials released statistics about Enron employee stock holdings. Combs said that 20,795 Enron employees held $2.1 billion in the company’s 401(k) plan at the end of the year 2000, 63% of which was in Enron stock.

At that time, 7,600 people held another $1 billion worth of Enron stock as part of the employee stock ownership plan, Combs said, and 20,000 people were enrolled in a defined- benefit pension plan, with assets of $270 million that are federally guaranteed and not involved in the bankruptcy.

Some employees could have belonged to more than one program.

Combs runs the Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration, which enforces federal pension and health-benefit plans.

Enron is now seeking federal bankruptcy protection in a Houston US Bankruptcy court.