Federal prosecutors expanded their case against Bernard J. Ebbers on Monday, unveiling a new indictment that charges the former WorldCom Inc. chief executive with making a total of seven false filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Ebbers, 62, was already facing one count each of conspiracy, securities fraud and false filing in connection with his alleged role in the nation's largest accounting scandal. WorldCom declared bankruptcy in 2002 after acknowledging that it had overstated its bottom line by billions of dollars. Since then, the firm, which now does business as MCI, has revealed that it improperly accounted for more than $11 billion.
The additional charges could increase Ebbers's sentence if he is found guilty on all counts.
Five former WorldCom executives, including former chief financial officer Scott D. Sullivan, have pleaded guilty to criminal charges. Sullivan pleaded guilty March 2, the same day Ebbers was first indicted. Sullivan, who is cooperating with federal authorities, acknowledged that he tampered with the firm's accounting to reduce expenses and improve the bottom line.
The new 31-page indictment, handed up by a Manhattan federal grand jury, specifically charges Ebbers with causing the telecommunications firm to file false annual statements with the SEC for 2000 and 2001 and false quarterly statements for all of 2001 and the first quarter of 2002. The previous indictment charged Ebbers with making a false filing for the third quarter of 2000.
The securities fraud and false filing counts each carry a maximum of 10 years in jail. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum of five years in prison. Under federal guidelines, defendants rarely serve maximum sentences, but former prosecutors said the additional charges and increasing the length of time the alleged conspiracy covers both could add years to his sentence if he is convicted.
"Whenever you add counts, you're squeezing the defendant," said Kirby D. Behre, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice. "Often the reason you do this is to show the breadth and depth of the government's case to the defendant."
Ebbers is scheduled to have a pretrial conference Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan. His trial is slated for Nov. 9. His attorney Reid Weingarten did not respond immediately to requests for comment but in the past has said that his client is not guilty of the charges.