The University of California has joined a federal class action lawsuit against 29 senior executives of the Enron Corporation, the energy supplier for the UC and Cal State University.

Prosecutors claim that Enron executives, including chief executive officer Kenneth Lay, knew of the company’s impending bankruptcy, declared last month, and falsified financial documents, then sold their stock at an inflated price between Oct. 19, 1998 and Nov. 27, 2001. The suit asks for a refund of $1.1 billion, including $144.7 million the UC claims to have lost.

The University has petitioned the court to be named the lead plaintiff and be appointed supervision over the entire litigation, although there are hundreds of individuals and institutions involved.

University Counsel Lloyd Lee said the lawsuit will recover losses for everybody who bought stock in Enron during that period, including institutions, individuals and Enron employees. The University sold its one million shares of Enron stock in November right before the company filed for bankruptcy.

“We hate the idea that through fraud the University lost money. We don’t think it’s right and that money belongs to the University’s endowment or retirement fund,” Lee said. “It’s important to stand up to the principle that if you do wrong, you should pay for it.”

The UC claims to have lost $88 million from its retirement fund, but spokesperson Charles McFadden said the UC will meet its retirement obligations to employees.

“Nothing that has happened with Enron has at all endangered the retirement fund,” he said.

As lead plaintiff, the University would have the advantage of making sure all its interests are observed, UC Office of President Legal Counsel Christopher Patti said.

Ten institutions have petitioned for the lead plaintiff position and the court will base its decision on the entries that have the largest financial loss. The court will set a hearing to decide its lead plaintiff in early February, but the trial will probably not go to court for a few years.

The lawsuit is also against the international accounting firm of Arthur Andersen LLP for withholding financial information from auditors. On Friday, the LA Times reported that the Andersen firm had destroyed several documents related to the Enron audit.

Despite bankruptcy, Enron still provides electricity to the UC system. On Feb. 1, 2001, Enron sought to alter its 1998 contract by returning the UC and California State University to the electrical distribution and billing systems of Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric. The UC and CSU filed a lawsuit against Enron and on July 11, Enron agreed to continue service and extend the contract if the lawsuit was dropped. The original contract was scheduled to end on March 31, 2002, but the new contract will end in March 2004.