The former director of general accounting at WorldCom Inc. was sentenced Tuesday to one year and one day in prison for his role in the company's record $11 billion fraud.
The sentence for Buford T. Yates Jr., 49, came nearly three years after he pleaded guilty to helping WorldCom overstate its earnings from 2000 to 2002 in a scandal that bankrupted the telecom company.
Yates pleaded guilty to fraud in October 2002, telling a judge he was instructed by superiors to make adjustments to company books that had "no justification" and were designed to meet Wall Street expectations.
"There is not a day that goes by that I don't think back to my actions and regret my decisions," Yates told U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones. "I chose the easy way out."
The judge said Yates had been "perhaps the least useful" of all the cooperators with the government's case. She said Yates appeared to have been motivated by "a reluctance to upset the apple cart" at the company.
Jones also imposed a $5,000 fine and ordered Yates to report to federal prison Oct. 10.
The extra day in the sentence means Yates will be eligible to have his prison term reduced by a few weeks for good behavior.
Although Yates did not testify at the trial of former chief executive Bernard J. Ebbers, his lawyer has said he strenuously objected to making the changes but was told they had been approved by the highest levels of WorldCom management. Yates is one of five former WorldCom executives who pleaded guilty to fraud and helped the government build its case against Ebbers, who was sentenced last month to 25 years in prison.
Last week, Betty L. Vinson, a former WorldCom accounting official who said she pulled numbers "out of the air" when she helped fudge company books, was sentenced to five months in prison. Another former accounting official, Troy M. Normand, was sentenced to three years of probation after a federal prosecutor said his role in the fraud was less than Vinson's.
Yet to be sentenced are two former executives who were higher in the company: controller David F. Myers and finance chief Scott D. Sullivan, the star witness against Ebbers.
The fraud plunged WorldCom into bankruptcy protection in 2002. The Ashburn company has since emerged under the name MCI Inc.