Texas Exec Dies in Apparent Suicide
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HOUSTON (AP) _ The treasurer of El Paso Corp., one of several energy trading companies reeling over questions about its accounting practices, was found shot dead in an apparent suicide at his home, police said Monday.
There was no immediate indication that the death on Sunday of Charles Dana Rice was directly related to the company’s troubles. According to industry executives, he was known to suffer from some health problems.
Still, El Paso stock plummeted as nervous investors quickly sold shares. The circumstances were reminiscent of the suicide of J. Clifford Baxter, a former vice chairman at Enron Corp., who shot himself in his car not far from home on Jan. 25, after that company, also based in Houston, collapsed in an accounting scandal.
Rice, 47, was a senior vice president at El Paso, where he worked for 25 years.
``Dana was a tireless worker, a valued contributor, and will be missed both as a business associate and as a friend,″ William A. Wise, the company’s chairman, president, and chief executive officer said. ``Our hearts and prayers are with his wife and their family.″
Company spokeswoman Norma Dunn said employees at the company were saddened by the news but no further details about Rice’s death would be released by the company. ``We are trying to protect the privacy of the family,″ she said.
Houston police spokeman Joe Laud said Rice was found dead at his home at 1 p.m. Sunday. He ``died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound,″ Laud said.
Police would not say if anyone else was at home at the time.
The Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office was conducting an autopsy but declined to immediately provide any details.
Wall Street executives who dealt with El Paso said it was widely known that Rice had suffered from heart and kidney problems.
A neighbor, Donna Miller, said Rice was undergoing dialysis and she believed he was on a list to receive a kidney transplant.
He joined El Paso Natural Gas in 1977 as an analyst in one of its finance divisions and became director of the accounting department in 1996. In 1998, he became vice president and treasurer of El Paso Energy.
Rice’s death comes amid turmoil in the energy sector over allegedly bogus trades and accounting. Federal regulators are investigating simultaneous power swaps between energy traders that artificially boosted trading volume and, in some cases, added to revenue.
Last week, El Paso announced it would sharply reduce its energy trading activities and focusing on its core natural gas businesses.
As part of the restructuring, the company said it would eliminate about 300 jobs within its trading group, cut in half its investment in trading activities to $1 billion and divide the segment into three separate divisions.
El Paso said it would also revamp its financial reporting so it is more simple and transparent.
The troubles in the industry are a continuation of the unraveling of Enron’s overzealous accounting and trading maneuvers that spread to rivals and proved the once-mighty energy trader’s downfall.
As a result credit-rating agencies have issued a slew of downgrades and warnings, making it more difficult for energy merchants to borrow money and conduct their day-to-day affairs.
Dynegy Inc., Reliant Resources Inc. and CMS Energy have all acknowledged using such trades, which boost a companies trading volume but bring in no income.
Last month, the chairman and chief executives of Dynegy and CMS both resigned.
El Paso has denied engaging in any such trades to falsely inflate volume or prices. But in a filing with federal regulators, the company said 125 pairs of trades out of more than 40,000 conducted by its El Paso Merchant Energy subsidiary in 2000 and 2001 were of the round-trip variety.
Shares of El Paso fell $3.70, or 14 percent, to close Monday at $21.95 on the New York Stock Exchange.