Former WorldCom Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Bernard Ebbers was sentenced Wednesday to 25 years in prison, imposing what could be a life sentence on the executive held accountable for WorldCom's historic collapse into bankruptcy in the wake of a US$11 billion accounting scandal.
US District Court Judge Barbara Jones ordered Ebbers, 63, to report to prison in Mississippi by mid-October to begin serving his sentence, according to news reports. Earlier this week, Jones denied Ebbers' request for a new trial, ruling that none of the objections raised by his lawyers was significant enough to warrant retrying the case. Ebbers continues to work on an appeal of his conviction.
A jury convicted Ebbers in March on charges of conspiracy and fraud. Ebbers is the first of several former WorldCom executives to be sentenced. Those awaiting sentencing include former WorldCom Chief Financial Officer Scott Sullivan, who pleaded guilty and cooperated with prosecutors. His testimony helped convince the jury of Ebbers' culpability.
In a separate, civil settlement granted preliminary approval on Monday, a judge stripped Ebbers of most of his assets, including the Mississippi mansion in which his family lives. The one-time paper billionaire would be left with few holdings, as most of his cash and assets will be used for a reimbursement fund to compensate WorldCom shareholders and others affected by the company's fraud
"I think this is a fair sentence. It's unfortunate, but for the type of fraud that was committed, I think the courts need to send a strong warning to the business community that this won't be tolerated," said Norman Berle, a criminal lawyer who also teaches at the Fordham University Graduate School of Business.
Berle's classes include a business ethics course and another on white-collar crime. WorldCom, Enron, and their ilk have been a hot discussion topic. "These are the types of companies that students want to get jobs with," he said. "When they see these companies go under and their CEOs indicted, they pay attention."