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U.S. Seeks Life Sentence for WorldCom's Ebbers

June 29, 2005|From Associated Press

NEW YORK — Federal prosecutors want former WorldCom Inc. boss Bernard J. Ebbers to go to prison for the rest of his life and urged a judge to brush off his pleas for leniency.

In court papers made public Tuesday, the government encouraged the judge to hand down a penalty consistent with a federal probation report that has recommended a life sentence.

"The enormity of the crimes that Ebbers committed cannot be overstated: The fraud at WorldCom was the largest securities fraud in history," prosecutors wrote. "Along with Enron, the name WorldCom has become synonymous with fraud."

Prosecutors also encouraged Judge Barbara Jones to consider the 15-year sentence given last week to Adelphia Communications Corp. founder John Rigas. Rigas, 80 and in poor health, could be released sooner if he serves at least two years and has fewer than three months to live.

Ebbers, who is 63 and has a history of heart problems, was convicted March 15 of orchestrating the $11-billion accounting fraud that sank WorldCom three years ago. His sentencing is set for July 13.

Ebbers has asked the judge for a sentence "substantially below" life in prison, citing his poor health and a history of charitable works. More than 100 people, mostly family and friends, have written to Jones on his behalf.

Prosecutors told the judge that she should reject those arguments, saying the U.S. Bureau of Prisons would have no trouble looking after Ebbers' health.

As for the good traits and works that Ebbers says should win him leniency, including compassion for others and acting as a professional role model, prosecutors said those "are what one should expect of decent, hardworking people."

Although probation officials have recommended a life sentence based on sentencing guidelines, a Supreme Court ruling this year changed the guidelines from mandatory to advisory.

Ebbers is awaiting the judge's ruling on his bid for a new trial, claiming that the government or the judge should have granted immunity to three former WorldCom employees who Ebbers says could have helped his defense.

His lawyers also said Ebbers would appeal his conviction.

WorldCom collapsed in 2002 after Ebbers resigned and the fraud came to light. It has since emerged from bankruptcy and now operates as MCI Inc.

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