Ebbers Told to Start 25 Years in Prison on Sept. 26

By Brooke A. Masters
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 8, 2006

NEW YORK, Sept. 7 -- A federal judge has ordered former WorldCom Inc. chief executive Bernard J. Ebbers to report to prison on Sept. 26 to begin serving a 25-year sentence for accounting fraud.

U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones recommended that Ebbers be sent to the Federal Correctional Institution in Yazoo City, Miss., but the Bureau of Prisons is not required to heed her request. A bureau spokesman said Ebbers had not yet been assigned to a specific prison.

Ebbers, 65, has been free on bail while appealing his March 2005 conviction on nine counts of conspiracy, securities fraud and false regulatory filings in connection with an $11 billion accounting fraud at Mississippi-based WorldCom.

His sentence is one of the stiffest to come out of the wave of corporate scandals and reflects the judge's view that "anything else would not reflect the seriousness of the crime."

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit rejected Ebbers's appeal in July. The deadline for filing an appeal to the Supreme Court has not yet passed. Most federal judges do not wait for the Supreme Court before revoking a convicted defendant's bail and committing him or her to prison.

Reid Weingarten, a lawyer for Ebbers, said: "This may sound naive, but I believe in our client's innocence and our issues and that somewhere along the line justice is going to be done."

The rise and rapid fall of Ebbers has been one of the most dramatic corporate sagas of recent years. The former milkman and basketball coach built a tiny Mississippi long-distance company into the nation's second-largest telecommunications firm.

His empire came crashing down in June 2002 when WorldCom revealed that it had overstated its revenue and hidden billions of dollars in expenses by reclassifying them as capital improvements. WorldCom declared bankruptcy and has reemerged as MCI Inc., which was acquired by Verizon Communications Inc. this year.

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