Apparently, the critical period under current federal examination began in August 2001, when Lay's longtime lieutenant, Jeffrey Skilling, unexpectedly quit as Enron's chief executive after only six months in the top job, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
Lay resumed the chief executive post that he had held for some 15 years and remained there through the company's collapse in the fall of 2001 and eventual bankruptcy court filing that December.
Officials are comparing what Lay knew in those final months to his upbeat public remarks about the company's condition, said people familiar with the probe.
Lay has denied any wrongdoing during his tenure at Enron. He and his representatives have said that his public remarks about the company in the last half of 2001 were made in good faith and that he was unaware of the scope of some of the problems facing Enron.