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Pasco business leader to testify at Enron hearing

By JENNIFER GOLDBLATT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 3, 2002

NEW PORT RICHEY -- One of Pasco's small business leaders is about to have her say in the fallout from the Enron meltdown.

Dee Thomas, principal of a New Port Richey physical therapy practice, will testify in Washington, D.C., at congressional hearings this week in response to Enron's collapse. She will address the Oversight Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

Thomas' company, Ewing & Thomas, has 22 employees and is owned through an employee stock ownership plan. Under an ESOP, employees collectively buy a percentage of the company. Each year the company is given a new assessment of its worth. Employees are given stock certificates, according to how long they've been with the company and how much they are paid.

Thomas plans to speak on behalf of the National ESOP Association, which wants to prevent Congress from putting broad restrictions on ESOPs as a way of preventing some effects of the Enron crisis from happening again.

Enron, an energy-trading giant in Houston, spiraled from $101-billion in revenues in 2000 into bankruptcy court in December 2001 after revealing that it had kept millions of dollars in debts off the books through a series of complex partnerships.

When Enron collapsed, employees lost their jobs, and substantial portions of their savings, which were invested in Enron stock.

Enron set up an ESOP in 1986.

In response to the Enron crisis, lawmakers have introduced a number of bills to prevent future Enrons.

Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and John Corzine, D-N.J., proposed legislation that would allow employees to sell their stock at age 35 or after five years of service. The ESOP association expects that legislation will be introduced that would require employees to diversify after just a few years of ownership.

Thomas, who is immediate past chairman of the National ESOP association, says that if that legislation went through, "the burden would be too great financially for most companies to afford, and extremely harmful to the middle- and small-sized ESOPs."

"We want to ask the members of the committee not to rush into judgment about one company's tragedy and to use caution to not rush into any regulation that might be harmful to employee ownership," Thomas said.

Also testifying with Thomas will be Karen York, representing Scot Forge, an Illinois company that offers an ESOP.

-- Jennifer Goldblatt covers business in Pasco County. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6229, or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6229. Her e-mail address is goldblatt@sptimes.com.

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