As predicted here, this afternoon a federal jury in New York, on its eighth day of deliberations, convicted Bernie Ebbers on the criminal charges that he helped mastermind an $11 billion accounting fraud at WorldCom, now known as MCI. Ex-WorldCom CEO Ebbers Found Guilty on All Counts [CNNMoney.com]. The conviction completes a staggering fall for Ebbers, who took a small long-distance company in Mississippi and merged with or acquired ever-larger companies, earning him accolades and the nickname Telecom Cowboy. “He was WorldCom, and WorldCom was Ebbers,” the prosecutor told jurors. “He built the company. He ran it. Of course he directed this fraud.”
Six senior WorldCom executives were indicted for fraud and the company was forced to file for bankruptcy protection in 2002. But Bernie was the only one of those executives to plead not guilty. He gambled again, and this time lost big. Way big. Up to 85 years in prison. And it could not have happened to a more contemptible human being.
A charismatic businessman who went from Wall Street superstar to untouchable almost overnight, Ebbers turned a folksy demeanor and by-the-bootstraps biography into central exhibits in his unsuccessful defense against the charge that he inflated WorldCom’s books when his personal fortune ($400 million in WorldCom stock used as collateral for extravagant loans) was tanking during the dot.com and telecom bust of 2002. It is refreshing to realize that juries usually see through smokscreen defenses and get things right. Have a nice stay in Leavenworth, Bernie!!