Bernie Ebbers’ defense to criminal charges of accounting fraud that brought down WorldCom — the multi-billion dollar telecom conglomerate he built with a string of hundreds of complex financial mergers — is that he didn’t know anything about acounting. Prosecutor: Pressure “Corrupted” Ebbers [USAToday.com]. “I know what I don’t know,” Bernie testified, claiming he relied entirely on his CFO and chief accuser, Scott Sullivan, to manage financial matters.
That’s like the late Senator Sam Ervin, who chaired the Watergate hearings, famously saying in his folksy way that he was just a “simple ol’ country lawyer.” You don’t get to become CEO of a Fortune 50 company in America without understanding —and playing a key role — in corporate finance. Chief Executive Officers live and die (literally) by “hitting the numbers” Wall Street expects. I suspect the jury will see through Ebbers’ charade and send him to the slammer for a long time. At least, I hope they will. And it’s heartening that 74% of respondents to a CNBC poll agree with me.