home

Ebbers Jury Still Out

The jury in the fraud trial of WorldCom's Bernard Ebbers has deliberated three days without a verdict.

The jury has made a lot of requests for transcripts and videos. They asked for transcripts and videos of Ebbers - including his cross-examination transcript. I haven't read that they've asked for a transcript of Scott Sullivan's testimony.

You can never know how a jury is going to act, but it sounds to me like one or more of them are having trouble with Ebber's testimony that he was not familiar with high finance and had no idea of the company's accounting practices.

If Ebbers is convicted, it will mean the word of a co-operating co-defendant singing for his supper, bolstered only by the closing argument of a prosecutor, prevailed. That's too bad.

If the "dumbing down" defense doesn't work for Ebbers, what chance does Ken Lay have? Probably not much. You can bet his lawyers are watching closely. The "dumbing down" defense seems about as palatable to the public as Charles Graner's "orders from above" defense in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

Why did Ebbers take the stand? With only one witness, Scott Sullivan, testifying that Ebbers knew about and endorsed the illegal accounting practice, why not just stick with an attack on Sullivan? When a defendant does great on direct exam, being questioned by his own lawyer, and then flubs it on cross, being questioned by the government, the contrast alone makes jurors think he's guilty. Just another reason why most defendants should not take the stand.

Testimony of cooperating coconspirators is purchased testimony. It is bought and paid for with promises of leniency, a commodity that is far more precious than money. There is something morally bankrupt about a system that convicts people and sends them to jail for decades based upon the uncorroborated testimony of these cooperating witnesses.

Whatever Ebbers knew or didn't know, if the only person providing direct evidence against him was a former participant in the illegal venture who made a deal with the government to provide evidence against Ebbers to save his own hide, we all lose.

Again, the jury is still out, and I have no crystal ball. It may be that 11 jurors asked for Ebbers testimony and videos to prove to one juror holding out for guilt that Ebbers was right. I'd gladly say I'm wrong. But it usually doesn't happen that way.

< Apple vs. OnLine Journalists: Are Bloggers Journalists? | Bush Flip Flops on World Court Directive >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft


  • Re: Ebbers Jury Still Out (none / 0) (#1)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Wed Mar 09, 2005 at 05:13:31 AM EST
    Would one of you legal types please tell me why purchased testimony isn't unconstitutional? I understand that prosecutors use it because it's all about winning and this allows them to win, but it's abhorrent.

    Re: Ebbers Jury Still Out (none / 0) (#2)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Wed Mar 09, 2005 at 05:37:36 AM EST
    Whatever Ebbers knew or didn't know, if the only person providing direct evidence against him was a former participant in the illegal venture who made a deal with the government to provide evidence against Ebbers to save his own hide, we all lose. I refuse to believe that there were only two people engaged in this enterprise. And if Ebbers testimony is to be believed, there were no checks & balances against Sullivan? Having worked for MCI/W for several years in their global sales division, I would have a hard time buying that. Hell, having worked for any large corporate entity, anyone should have a hard time believing that. How do you slip $11B past auditors for 3 years? Even the people at KPMG that came to do the forensic clean-up said that there was nothing at all sophisticated about what they did. Their only issue was going back through the books over time. Who else was on the roster for the prosecution? Bert Roberts (Board of Dirs), right? Was Tim Myers (controller)? Ron Beaumont? Diana Day Cartee? Bob Hartnett? There were a lot of captains in that business who could have testified to the day-to-day operations there, and who might have been privy to the shenanigans. Why they all get a pass from the AG's office when it comes time to swear depositions, I have no idea.

    Re: Ebbers Jury Still Out (none / 0) (#3)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Wed Mar 09, 2005 at 07:03:02 AM EST
    I agree that purchased testimony is repulsive, and further agree that juries are too eager to swallow it. But I think you are wrong here. The defense is not denying that WorldCom committed big-time accounting fraud. This alone, for me, would be sufficient to dispel all reasonable doubt that the CEO was in cahoots with the fraud, unless rebutted by some kind of evidence. And I think it would be sufficient for anybody who has worked in a hierarchical enterprise. Self-serving testimony of the "I'm stupid" variety does not introduce a reasonable doubt, at least by itself. Sullivan is irrelevant in this case.

    Re: Ebbers Jury Still Out (none / 0) (#4)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Wed Mar 09, 2005 at 07:22:04 AM EST
    If I was on the jury, I'd vote guilty even if I thought Bernie was ignorant of the scheme. He was in charge and he made hundreds of millions off the fraud, so he deserves punishment.

    Re: Ebbers Jury Still Out (none / 0) (#5)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Wed Mar 09, 2005 at 07:56:11 AM EST
    I didn't follow the trial that closely so I don't know how strong a case the prosecution actually presented but I do know that the defense was preposterous. The SGT Shultz defense (I Know Nuffink!) was comedic on Hogan's Heroes when carried out by a seasoned actor and even more so when undertaken by Bernie Ebbers. He is nothing but a two-bit con man who probably took the stand against his lawyers' advice because he had been lying to and cheating people his whole life and figured he could fool the jury into believing his good 'ol boy innocent rube act. He was a micromanager at Worldcom and to believe that the massive fraud could have been carried out without his full knowledge and assent is not believeable. That the government even needs to show he had knowledge of the crime demonstrates the gross unfairness of our justice system. If he had robbed a bank and one of his accomplices had killed someone, felonly murder laws would prevent him from offering as a defense "I didn't think anyone would get hurt".

    Re: Ebbers Jury Still Out (none / 0) (#6)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Wed Mar 09, 2005 at 08:33:40 AM EST
    TalkLeft is right about this Case.

    Re: Ebbers Jury Still Out (none / 0) (#7)
    by kdog on Wed Mar 09, 2005 at 08:47:01 AM EST
    Speaking of two-bit common thieves and liars...how's the Ken Lay case coming I wonder? The gov't is running out of time to convict him before Bush leaves office, so he can then be pardoned.

    Re: Ebbers Jury Still Out (none / 0) (#8)
    by Dadler on Wed Mar 09, 2005 at 09:54:43 AM EST
    20 to life, Bernie. How's that sound? We can always wish. And your sentence comes with complimentary French maid's outfit.

    Re: Ebbers Jury Still Out (none / 0) (#9)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Wed Mar 09, 2005 at 09:55:58 AM EST
    In TalkLeft's zeal as a defense attorney he sometimes forgets that there is a class of defendants that can outspend the government, afford better lawyers, buy better jury consultants, and overall tip the balance of power in the defense's favor. And in the case of corporate crimes the defense starts out with a huge advantage because corporate crimes committed by men in suits are so much harder to prove than street crimes even if there harm to society is infinitely more damaging. If Ebbers were the head of a drug cartel the jury would have been out five minutes if he had got up on the stand and claimed he thought all the revenue of the "company" derived from legitimate real estate deals. Ebbers not only destroyed his own company he brought down an entire industry. Sprint's, AT&T's and the rest of the long-distance stand-alone industry's implosion was caused by their vain attempts to compete with the WorldCom. They couldn't figure out how WorldCom could offer such low prices and still turn huge profits so they kept lowering their prices to unsustainable levels. When the profits at WorldCom turned out to be illusory, the other companies were screwed and their stock prices collapsed.

    Re: Ebbers Jury Still Out (none / 0) (#10)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Wed Mar 09, 2005 at 10:32:53 AM EST
    ...Sprint's, AT&T's and the rest of the long-distance stand-alone industry's implosion was caused by their vain attempts to compete with the WorldCom... ...how WorldCom could offer such low prices and still turn huge profits so they kept lowering their prices to unsustainable levels.
    hadn't looked at it like that. damn, how deep does this rabbit hole go?

    Re: Ebbers Jury Still Out (none / 0) (#11)
    by Dana on Wed Mar 09, 2005 at 10:41:30 AM EST
    Prediction : NOT guilty!!!!!

    Re: Ebbers Jury Still Out (none / 0) (#12)
    by Rick B on Wed Mar 09, 2005 at 10:44:16 AM EST
    While I think you are correct about the law and the poor proof the prosecutor seems to have used, Ebbers was the CEO when the lying occurred and he is responsible for it - even if he was unaware of it, which I don't believe for a nanosecond. But if I were on the jury, the only proof I would require for his guilt is proof that a serious criime occurred over a lengthy period of time and proof he was CEO during that time. That comes from the military idea that the guy at the top is responsible for everything his people do or fail to do. Part fo the job of CEO is taking responsibility.

    Re: Ebbers Jury Still Out (none / 0) (#13)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Wed Mar 09, 2005 at 10:57:01 AM EST
    ...how WorldCom could offer such low prices and still turn huge profits so they kept lowering their prices to unsustainable levels. They couldn't. About a year and change before the news about the fraud hit, Bernie introduced a program he called "rate stabilization" to the field sales offices. (This was about the same time he started to open shareholder's meetings by having a prayer, by the way. Lesson learned: When your CEO is calling on the power of The Lord in order to have a good financial quarter, consider that a giant flapping red flag.) Rate stabilization was meant to offset the consistent write-down of revenues that all of WCOM's customers had come to expect year over year. Bernie had theretofore considered long-distance voice services to be a commodity item that he could leverage as a loss leader. But what he wasn't considering was that every penny written off meant discounts on future earnings that went on for the whole length of the contract. Think "rule of 78's." They were keeping business at the expense of extremely lucrative margin dollars. By the time he'd figured out how much top-line revenue was just flying out the door, he'd already taught the customers to demand lower prices, and he'd taught the competition the same lesson. Then, when the FCC nixed the Sprint merger, the whole shell game pretty much fell apart.

    Re: Ebbers Jury Still Out (none / 0) (#14)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Wed Mar 09, 2005 at 12:27:13 PM EST
    One last point. I know that the defense attorneys probably met the legal burden of their ethical requiremnts in that they didn't knowingly suborn perjury. But if they really believed that Bernie Ebbers didn't know about what was going on in his company, which was in conflict with everything that had ever been said, published, or commented on about his personality and business style and almost certainly contradicted their personal dealings with him, then they are the stupidist people on the face of the earth--even stupider than the picture of Bernie Ebbers they tried to paint. Their conduct in allowing him to testify to what they must have, at the very least had constructive knowledge, was perjured testimony was morally and ethically suspect.

    Re: Ebbers Jury Still Out (none / 0) (#15)
    by kdog on Wed Mar 09, 2005 at 12:31:55 PM EST
    My prediction...if the jury doesn't convict him, karma will.

    Re: Ebbers Jury Still Out (none / 0) (#16)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Wed Mar 09, 2005 at 03:25:47 PM EST
    Same questions I asked you about the Enron dudes I guess: First, do you really think the CEO of a $40 billion company doesn't know where the money is? (and if he doesn't, perhaps the Soviet system of giving him a tenner for not knowing isn't so bad)? Second, what about the people whose lives he destroyed in pursuit of his goal (whatever that was - markers for $50 billion? $100 billion? Even if you decided to fund your own trip to Mars you couldn't spend that much in a lifetime)? All the MCI employees? All the AT&T employees lives he ruined, all the damage he did to AT&T customers by pumping Wall Street with phony numbers? Does none of that count? What about justice? Cranky

    Re: Ebbers Jury Still Out (none / 0) (#17)
    by Richard Aubrey on Wed Mar 09, 2005 at 05:32:22 PM EST
    While it's hard to conceive of a CEO being that removed from the figures--since their movement affected his own wealth--does the prosecutor have to prove he did know what was going on? The military idea of responsibility going to the top has been improperly cited when the top was inhabited by somebody you don't like. That is usually not criminal responsibility. If a company commander's guys get drunk and tear up a bar, two or three weekends running, he'll be considered deficient in leadership, not guilty of D&D himself. His career will be over, of course. But it's not a crime. If Ebbers really was clueless, he did not, in the military sense, commit the crime of fraud. To continue the military metaphor, he'd be courtmartialed for being clueless. Not for fraud.

    Re: Ebbers Jury Still Out (none / 0) (#18)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Fri Mar 11, 2005 at 05:00:14 PM EST
    I saw a video with Bernie Ebbers and Bill Esrey (Sprint CEO) when WorldCom was attempting to merge with Sprint. The video was about 2 hours long and had Bernie and Bill sitting next to each other on bar stools. It was mandatory for Sprint employees to watch this video. Bernie was very aware of the Worldcom financial figures and was able to explain in depth why the Sprint acquisition would be good for both companies. I know without a doubt that Bernie knew what he was doing. Only this time he couldn’t hide the missing money in the murky depths of another takeover. Also, every 10 to 20 seconds he would sniff like he had just snorted way too much cocaine. In my opinion, Bernie is just another drug abuser that ruined his life. Unfortunately, not only did it ruin his life but also ruined the lives of thousands of other people their families and an industry. If he gets less than 20 years, then he is lucky. He should be tried as an Economic Terrorist, someone who knowingly does harm to the economy of the USA through criminal activity, regardless whether they intended to harm. Ken Lay should be in the same boat. Yes, I was laid off from Sprint after 20 years of service with them.