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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Jury Finds Ebbers Guilty on 9 Counts

NEW YORK -- Bernard Ebbers, the former chief executive of WorldCom, was found guilty Tuesday in U.S. federal court of orchestrating a record $11 billion fraud that came to symbolize the telecommunications bubble of the 1990s and the excesses that were uncovered in its aftermath.

The seven women and five men in the jury reached a verdict after deliberating for about 40 hours over eight days. Ebbers was convicted of securities fraud, conspiracy and seven counts of filing false reports with regulators. Each count carries a sentence of 5 or 10 years.

Ebbers and WorldCom, through the acquisition of dozens of phone companies, helped to create the rush for telecommunications stocks in the 1990s. They were at the center of a swirl of scandals that cast doubt on corporate accounting methods, the role of Wall Street analysts, and investment bankers who sold stocks and bonds to investors.

WorldCom's phantom growth caused once-mighty telecommunications companies like AT&T to cut prices and slash costs in the crippling race to keep up, from which they never fully recovered. And MCI, which WorldCom acquired with its lofty stock in 1998, was tainted by WorldCom's bankruptcy, was forced to let thousands of workers go and may soon be acquired.

Ebbers, 63, is the most prominent executive yet to be convicted in a corporate fraud case, but other executives face similar charges. Kenneth Lay, the former chairman of Enron, is to be tried next year on fraud and other charges, as is Jeffrey Skilling, Enron's former chief executive.

In the Federal District Court in Manhattan yesterday, Ebbers sat motionless as the jury foreman, Theodora Evans, read the decision. His hands clasped in front of him, Ebbers was ashen-faced by the time the drumbeat of nine guilty verdicts was over. His wife, Kristie, seated in the first row behind him, started to weep after the second verdict was read. When count 5 was read, her daughter, Carley, huddled closer.

The result in Ebbers' case, legal experts say, may be an indication that juries are not easily persuaded by claims from executives that they were unaware of securities and accounting crimes committed on their watch.

Ebbers' testimony that he did not know about the fraud, according to one juror, was unconvincing.

"A lot of his own testimony pretty much did it," said the juror, who insisted on anonymity.

Tuesday's verdict adds a somber postscript to the outsized story of Ebbers' rise and fall. From a modest background and with little schooling in technology or accounting, he turned a tiny reseller of long-distance phone services in Mississippi into a global telecommunications titan. Once worth more than $1 billion, most of it in WorldCom stock, Ebbers was hailed for his vision and savvy during good times and accused of greed and deceit during bad times.

Despite a deluge of documents and weeks of testimony about intricate accounting procedures, the case essentially came down to Ebbers' word against that of Scott Sullivan, WorldCom's former chief financial officer, who said Ebbers directed him to doctor WorldCom's financial books to hide the company's slowing sales. Sullivan has pleaded guilty to his role in the fraud and could be sentenced to 25 years in prison.

After the jurors, judge and prosecutors left the courtroom, several dozen reporters waited in near-silence as Ebbers and his lawyers put on their coats to leave. Ebbers sipped water and hugged his wife, who patted him on the back.

Ebbers left the courthouse holding his wife's hand and his stepdaughter's arm. They made no public comments before they hailed a cab and sped away.

Sentencing for Ebbers is scheduled on June 13. Until then, he is free on bail.