JACKSON, Miss. — A former telecommunications executive convicted in one of the largest corporate accounting scandals in U.S. history is asking a judge to shorten his prison sentence so he can be released as his health deteriorates.
Bernard Ebbers led WorldCom, once one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies. The Mississippi-based WorldCom collapsed and went into bankruptcy in 2002, causing losses to stockholders, including people who had invested through retirement plans. The collapse happened after revelations of $11 billion in accounting fraud that included pressure by top executives on lower-level employees to use inflated numbers to make the company look more profitable.
Ebbers was convicted in New York in 2005 on securities fraud and other charges and received a 25-year sentence. He has been imprisoned since September 2006.
A federal judge has set a Monday deadline for federal officials to provide an update about Ebbers’ health.
His attorneys say Ebbers, 78, has recently lost weight, is legally blind and has several medical problems, including a heart ailment.
“Because of his diminished eyesight, Ebbers unintentionally bumped into another prisoner while walking in the facility in September of 2017. The prisoner came to Ebbers’ open cell later in the day and physically attacked him for bumping into him,” his attorneys say in court papers filed Sept. 5.
The papers say the attack fractured the bones around Ebbers’ eyes and caused blunt head trauma and other injuries. They also say Ebbers was put into solitary confinement because his “severely limited eyesight” made him unable to identify the attacker.
One of Ebbers’ daughters submitted a request in July that her father receive compassionate release from a federal prison medical facility in Fort Worth, Texas. Court papers say a Bureau of Prisons official denied that request in August.
Ebbers’ attorneys are asking that his sentence be reduced to the time he has already served and that he be released.
In court papers filed Oct. 4, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey S. Berman, objected to releasing Ebbers.
“Ebbers has not carried his burden of demonstrating that his medical conditions have substantially diminished his ability to provide self-care within the environment of a correctional facility,” Berman said in the filing that was also signed by an assistant U.S. attorney, Gina Castellano. “Ebbers’ medical conditions remain manageable — and are being well-managed — through treatment by the Bureau of Prisons.”
A federal appeals court judge who upheld Ebbers’ conviction in 2006 wrote that WorldCom’s fraudulent accounting practices were “specifically intended to create a false picture of profitability even for professional analysts that, in Ebbers' case, was motivated by his personal financial circumstances.”
Five other WorldCom executives were convicted for their roles the accounting fraud, including chief financial officer Scott Sullivan, who was a witness against Ebbers. Sullivan was sentenced to five years. He served four years in prison and released in early 2009 to serve the rest of the sentence on home confinement.
WorldCom emerged from bankruptcy in 2004 and rebranded itself as MCI, the name of a telecommunications company WorldCom had purchased years earlier. The two companies had merged in 1997. During bankruptcy, the company moved its headquarters from Clinton, Mississippi, to Ashburn, Va.. In 2006, Verizon Communications bought MCI.