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Archive for Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Former WorldCom executive faces trial

Jury selection begins this week in federal court

January 18, 2005

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— WorldCom Inc. was in trouble. The stock price was wobbly and Wall Street was asking tough questions. But CEO Bernard Ebbers repeatedly put a positive face on his company, promising sound finances, strong revenue growth and conservative accounting -- famously reassuring concerned analysts in 2001 that "we do not see any storms on the horizon."

Federal prosecutors say Ebbers was lying, orchestrating a shell game to cover up his company's financial trouble and stay in Wall Street's good graces. In the summer of 2002, WorldCom collapsed under the weight of an $11 billion accounting fraud and filed for the largest bankruptcy in the history of American business.

Two and a half years later, Ebbers, 63, faces a criminal fraud and conspiracy trial in New York, with jury selection getting under way this week.

The trial completes a remarkable arc for Ebbers, from visionary who launched a long-distance company with colleagues at a Mississippi coffee shop in 1983, to leader of one of the world's leading telecommunications firms, to accused felon facing possibly years in prison.

While Ebbers has kept a low profile since he was indicted in March 2004, he always has maintained his innocence.

"Bernie Ebbers never sought to mislead investors, never sought to improperly manipulate WorldCom's numbers, never improperly took any money and never sought to hurt the company he built," his lawyer Reid Weingarten said at the time.

Potential jurors are set to fill out questionnaires Wednesday, with in-court juror interviews set for Monday.

Opening statements could begin as early as the middle of next week.

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