THE RICH are different. They have better plea bargains.
Former Enron financial executive Andrew Fastow, whose scheming led to the implosion of the energy giant, and his wife, Lea, who worked briefly for Enron and helped him, are refusing to flip for prosecutors unless they can tag-team their jail terms.
They want one parent at home with the kids while the other is in the slammer.
This child-care plea bargain stalled last week in Houston when federal Judge David Hittner refused to guarantee that mom would be out before dad went in.
Lea Fastow is supposedly a small fish in this billion-dollar collapse, and a five-month sentence might be about right, but Hittner wants a chance to see the extent of her involvement and, if he sees fit, impose a longer sentence - perhaps as long as three years.
There is little doubt that dad will be behind bars sooner than that, even if he goes to trial in April as scheduled.
He is reportedly on the verge of a plea bargain that would put him away for 10 years in exchange for testimony against higher-ups.
But he won't sign unless the feds guarantee that mommy will be home in time to explain it to the boys, ages 4 and 8.
It seems fitting that a financial debacle as enormous as the Enron bankruptcy - precipitated by unfathomable greed - should come down to this kind of arrogant self-interest.
I can only guess at the number of men and women in prison right now who would have appreciated any kind of deal that included consideration for their children, but who didn't have the legal juice to swing it or the information to trade for it.
Though the Fastow boys were hardly co-conspirators, they did receive kickback checks for tens of thousands of dollars made out to them, say prosecutors.
And, it seems to me, mom and dad should have considered the kids before they helped to sink the nation's sixth largest corporation - and tens of thousands of employees, retirees and pensioners with it. Not to mention the hit they delivered to investors in world financial markets, who have yet to recover.
Enron investors, blinded to the corporation's financial ill-health by Andrew Fastow's Byzantine web of lies, saw their investment drop from $90 to less than a dime a share.
In addition, prosecutors say, Fastow had enriched himself with tens of millions of dollars in payments from phony partnerships as well as kickbacks from co-conspirators.
The only restitution Enron employees, investors and retirees ever received were the televised pictures of Fastow's sprawling - some say monstrous - new 12,000-square-foot Houston home, where construction had stopped, leaving it a skeleton surrounded by mud.
Lea Fastow is scheduled to go to trial first, early next month. Her deal could be revived any time until the jury comes back.
Without a plea bargain, Andrew Fastow could go to jail for a century - or at least until he is into his 60s. With it, he might be out in 10 years, in time for his oldest son's high school graduation.
There is incentive on both sides. The prosecutors want the information Fastow has against former Enron execs Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay, who have not yet been indicted.
And then, of course, there is the well-being of the children, which I am sure is on everyone's mind.
The good news for the boys is that Fastow's parents moved from the East Coast to Houston to be near him when the scandal broke.
In the worst-case scenario, grandma and grandpa can baby-sit while the parents are incarcerated.
They can just tell the kids that mom and dad are in Europe.