Bernie Ebbers To Start Serving 25 Year Sentence

WorldCom founder Bernie Ebbers, age 65, will report to federal prison tomorrow to begin serving his 25 year sentence for fraud. For Ebbers, it is a life sentence.

In the category of longest prison sentence, WorldCom Inc. founder Bernard J. Ebbers recently bested the organizer of an armed robbery, the leaders of a Bronx drug gang and the acting boss of the Gambino crime family.

Also on Tuesday, Enron's former Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow will be sentenced. He cooperated with the Government and faces no more than ten years in prison.

Exercising one's constitutional right to a jury trial has never been more perilous. Ebbers' cohort, Scott Sullivan, the architect of the WorldCom scheme, was sentenced to only five years after he decided to cooperate and testify against Ebbers. Ken Lay was facing 25 years after his conviction, and Jeff Skilling is looking at the same, after they went to trial and were convicted, in large part due to Fastow's testimony against them.

The Washington Post article focuses on this issue:

The length of Ebbers's sentence when compared with others touches on one of the most controversial parts of the American criminal justice system: How large a pound of flesh should society exact for serious white-collar crime? When the victims are diffuse, the crime complex and the injuries economic, what kind of punishment constitutes justice?

To me, that's secondary in importance to the disparity of sentences meted out to cooperators and those who risk going to trial. It's the same whether it's a complex financial case or drug case. Got to trial and you risk facing life -- convicted in large part by testimony of your former partners in crime. Cooperate with the government and take a plea, and you'll return home to your family.

That's the problem with purchased testimony. It is purchased with promises of leniency -- a commodity far more precious than money. You must tell the Government's truth to get the deal ... which prompts many to embellish or fabricate their testimony.

It's a system that is morally bankrupt. And it's unlikely to change soon.

Were the WorldCom and Enron scandals to happen today, the sentences for Ebbers and Fastow might be even longer. Angry lawmakers enacted even tougher penalties for corporate fraud after those companies filed for bankruptcy protection. But the stiff new punishments apply only to people who committed crimes after 2002.

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    Compounded by the fact that the Constitutionally guaranteed right of an individual to excercise his right to a jury trial counts as "failure to accept responsibility" and counts against him during sentencing. Whcih is tantamount to saying that you can have a jury trial, but we will punish you for it.

    Re: Bernie Ebbers To Start Serving 25 Year Sentenc (none / 0) (#1)
    by cpinva on Mon Sep 25, 2006 at 09:05:16 AM EST
    while these sentences would appear, on the surface, to be excessive, relative to the crime, i'm not so certain that's the case. how many people's lives and savings were ruined by the machinations of these guys? how many people suffered illness, due to stress resulting from those devistating financial losses? i have no idea, but i suspect a fairly large number. what makes those losses less compelling than the damage done by a murderer or drug dealer? just because someone steals your money without putting a gun to your head, doesn't make the loss any less. and let's be realistic, part of the whole sentencing issue is about vengence, whether or not we openly admit it.

    Woody Guthrie said it best: Yes, as through this world I've wandered I've seen lots of funny men; Some will rob you with a six-gun, And some with a fountain pen. And as through your life you travel, Yes, as through your life you roam, You won't never see an outlaw Drive a family from their home. How many people lost their savings, jobs and homes due to Ebbers and other white collar criminals? Having an education sometimes just makes you a better, more efficient thief.


    As someone who works for one of WorldCom/MCI's competitors I think it is hard to understate the damage that his fraud did to the entire telecommunications industry. The entire industry was benchmarking against WorldCom and trying to match their "earnings". Thousands of people were let go from their jobs because other companies in the industry felt pressure to match what WorldCom was doing. The ramifications of his fraud were felt far outside the employees and sharholders at WorldCom. That being said I think that a sentence of this magnitude should be reserved solely for violent offenses (murder, rape etc.). Unfortunately, Ebbers is a very unsympathetic guy to make this case. To this day he still admits no wrong doing.

    Re: Bernie Ebbers To Start Serving 25 Year Sentenc (none / 0) (#6)
    by kdog on Mon Sep 25, 2006 at 02:21:26 PM EST
    You won't never see an outlaw Drive a family from their home
    Ain't that the truth. Considering we have people serving prison sentences who didn't victimize a fly...let's get them out before we worry about Ebbers, who victimized thousands. And for what? More millions than he could ever spend. I'll never understand such people.

    There are two separate issues presented by the sentencing. First, is it just to have such great disparity between the sentences of a cooperating witness and another principal in the crime? Second, should white collar crime be treated with lesser sentence than those accorded to so called "violent" crimes? The disparity between codefendents really must be examined on a case by case basis. My experience (both prosecuting and defending) demonstrates that it costs a lot more to induce cooperation when the crime is more complex and the defendants have higher socio-economic status. I have also seen too many prosecutors bargain away too much since they did not really understand the strength of their own case. I find the second question to be far more revealing and interesting. White collar criminals are often more dangerous to both the individual and our society than the violent criminal. The damage done by Enron and WorldCom far exceeded the harm caused by a knife wielding thug. We will see the one person wounded or killed by the knife wielding criminal. However, we will not see the ruined lives of the thousands impacted by lost pensions, 401k's and employment due to white collar fraud. There will be far more damage than caused by one, two or three violent assaults. People will lose their lives. Some will commit suicide after watching their lives fall apart. Others will end up working when they should have retired thereby shortening life expectancy. Some will end up losing health care. There will also be other losses. Some will watch their marriages fail due to stress from economic loss. Others will watch as their children can not afford higher education or must take on crushing debt. Dl noted the costs to those who were not employees, shareholders or retired pensioners. However, I think the greatest cost involves the character of our society. What are we saying when an Ebbers, Lay (RIP) or Skilling receive a lesser sentence because it is only a white collar crime? Are we not telling others that it is better to steal from many than few? Are we setting up those who are the most visible symbols of success also as examples of why one should not obey the law? I have also served as counsel in a large corporation. I have seen mid and lower level executives forced to compromise their morals and obedience to the law in order to implement the criminal designs of the corporate leaders. Leaders who will carefully engineer in their own plausible deniability White collar criminals are more dangerous than most violent criminals. Their crimes emphasize the dehumanization of their victims and the cowardness of not even facing them when the crime is committed. Their crimes emphasize that we as individuals count for less than corporate interests and the wealthy.

    I tend to agree, that non-violent offenders should get considerably lighter sentences than violent ones... Unless their actions impact THOUSANDS of people, and they almost got away with MILLIONS... 5 years is too light, 25 years is too light! Although non-violent, they have affected more people than they could ever meet and know, and should have to write a letter of apology to each one for their actions... OR, their penalties should be PER FAMILY inflicted with monetary harm...THEN, 5 years sounds good..

    I don't understand your concern about Ebbers or the lighter sentence Fastow got for cooperating. The government has a responsibility to ensure that Fastow tells the truth in his testimony and his incentive to lie on the stand is certainly less than Ebbers' who is trying to save his own skin. And anyone who knows the history of WorldCom or anything about Bernie Ebbers cannot believe that his "SGT Schultz" defense was anything but pure and simple perjury. He was the consumate micromanager and new everything that was going on in his company and personally negotiated every major deal. In the pyramid scheme that was WorldCom he was the guy sending out the chain letters. That his lawyers can claim with a straight face that they weren't suborning perjury by letting him testify as he did, demonstrates their total lack of ethics. As someone whose job was eliminated at Sprint as a direct result of Bernie Ebbers' shenanigans, he deserves every minute of the 25 years and should have gotten the full 85 years.