Dr. Kenneth Lee "Ken" Lay (April 15, 1942 – July 5, 2006) was an American businessman, best known for his role in the widely reported corruption scandal that led to the downfall of Enron Corporation. Lay and Enron became synonymous with corporate abuse and accounting fraud when the scandal broke in 2001. Lay was the CEO and chairman of Enron from 1985 until his resignation on January 23, 2002, except for a few months in 2000 when he was chairman and Jeffrey Skilling was CEO.
On July 7, 2004, Lay was indicted by a grand jury on 11 counts of securities fraud and related charges. On January 31, 2006, following four and a half years of preparation by government prosecutors, Lay's and Skilling's trial began in Houston. Lay was found guilty on May 25, 2006, of 10 counts against him; the judge dismissed the 11th. Because each count carried a maximum 5- to 10-year sentence, legal experts said Lay could have faced 20 to 30 years in prison. However, he died while vacationing in Snowmass, Colorado on July 5, 2006, about three and a half months before his scheduled October 23 sentencing. Preliminary autopsy reports state that he died of a heart attack caused by coronary artery disease. As a result of his death, on October 17, 2006, the federal district court judge who presided over the case vacated Lay's conviction. There have been conspiracy theories surrounding his death.
Lay was born in Tyrone, Missouri, the son of Ruth (née Rees) and Omer Lay. His father was a Baptist preacher and some-time tractor salesman. When Lay was a child, he delivered newspapers and mowed lawns. Early on, he moved to Columbia, Missouri and attended David H. Hickman High School and the University of Missouri where he studied economics, receiving a B.A. in 1964 and an M.A. in 1965. He served as president of the Zeta Phi chapter of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at the University of Missouri. He went on to earn his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Houston in 1970 and soon after went to work at Exxon Mobil Corp., the successor to Humble Oil & Refining.