NEW YORK, March 15 -- Former WorldCom Inc. chief executive Bernard J. Ebbers was found guilty Tuesday on all counts against him of conspiracy, securities fraud and false regulatory filings for his role in a massive accounting fraud that led to the downfall of the nation's second-largest telecommunications firm and cost investors billions of dollars.
Ebbers sat impassively with his fingers laced as the jury forewoman delivered a guilty verdict on all nine counts. He stared intently at each juror as the judge polled them individually.
Bernard Ebbers, 63, and his wife, Kristie, exit a federal courthouse in New York after a jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts against the former WorldCom chief executive.
(Gregory Bull - AP)
Transcript: The Washington Post's Brooke A. Masters was online to discuss the Ebbers case.
Transcript: Roma Theus, vice chairman of the Corporate Integrity and White Collar Crime Committee at the Defense Research Institute
Graphic: A Titan's Rise and Fall
Photo Gallery: Ebbers Through the Years
Video: The Washington Post's Brooke Masters discusses the scene inside the courtroom.
Jury Seeks Guidance In Ebbers's Trial (The Washington Post, Mar 10, 2005)
Jury Begins Deliberations in Trial of WorldCom's Ebbers (The Washington Post, Mar 5, 2005)
Ebbers's Attorney Blames Underlings (The Washington Post, Mar 4, 2005)
Prosecution Says Ebbers Had Motive, Led Fraud (The Washington Post, Mar 3, 2005)
Conflicting Portraits Of Ebbers Drawn at Trial (The Washington Post, Mar 2, 2005)
The jury of seven women and five men held Ebbers, 63, responsible for filings that boosted WorldCom's reported earnings and hid the fact that its business was deteriorating for nearly two years. WorldCom filed for bankruptcy protection in July 2002, later announcing it had uncovered $11 billion in fraudulent accounting entries.
The firm's collapse, combined with the implosion of Enron Corp., sounded the death knell for the 1990s stock market boom and prompted Congress to enact strict new laws holding corporate chieftains more accountable for their companies' financial reporting.
"It's a very sad day for Bernie Ebbers, but it's a very good day for Wall Street and investors," said St. John's University law professor Anthony M. Sabino. "If you're the chief executive, you're the captain of the ship. You can't get in front of a jury and say, 'I'm not responsible.' "
That could be a chilling thought for former chief executives whose trials are underway or pending, including HealthSouth Corp. founder Richard M. Scrushy and former Enron executives Kenneth L. Lay and Jeffrey K. Skilling, who are all using similar defenses.
Ebbers, a former milkman and high school coach who built WorldCom from a tiny Mississippi long-distance reseller into a national powerhouse, is the fifth and highest-ranking WorldCom executive to be convicted in the fraud. He faces a maximum of 85 years in prison and could spend much of the rest of his life behind bars. It was a remarkable comedown for a former billionaire once hailed as the "telecom cowboy" for helping lead the telecommunications revolution.
His wife, Kristie, cried quietly throughout the reading of the verdict, and, after it was finished, Ebbers walked over and put his arms around her and their daughter. Then he and his family left the Manhattan courthouse together, pushing through a scrum of reporters who peppered him with questions. Silent and still impassive, he and his family climbed into a taxi.
The conviction came after five weeks of testimony and more than 40 hours of deliberation over eight days. During that time the jury sent out more than two dozen notes and requested transcripts of the testimony of virtually every witness.
"We are all devastated. We profoundly believe in our client. We believe this case is riddled with reasonable doubt," said Reid H. Weingarten, Ebbers's lead attorney. Weingarten promised to appeal.