Ex-WorldCom CEO Pleads Innocent in Okla.
Sep. 04, 2003
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Former WorldCom chief executive Bernie Ebbers is free on $50,000 bail as his attorneys and prosecutors debate the legal merit of charges that he violated Oklahoma securities laws.
Ebbers, 62, pleaded innocent to the first charges brought against the man who presided during the telephone company's $11 billion accounting scandal. A pretrial conference was set for Oct. 30.
Ebbers had no comment Wednesday after leaving an Oklahoma County courthouse, but his attorney, Reid Weingarten, said the charges against his client were ``wildly insufficient.''
``When we get to court, all allegations, wild speculation, the political meanderings of the commentators, the hysterical rants of the editorial pages, nothing like that will be sufficient. It will be evidence and only evidence that will count,'' Weingarten said.
He said speculation about what Ebbers ``should have known or might have known will not replace competent evidence.''
Debbie Paz, assistant Oklahoma attorney general, said Weingarten is incorrect in saying the state lacks evidence.
``Come to the trial, you can see the evidence,'' she said.
Attorney General Drew Edmondson was not in the courtroom Wednesday and would not comment on the extent of the state's evidence.
``But we feel it is sufficient to prove guilty beyond a reasonable doubt or we would not have filed the charges,'' he said.
WorldCom, now known as MCI, also was charged in the Oklahoma complaint, which alleges that the company's falsified profit reports caused Oklahoma investors to lose millions, including a $64 million hit taken by state pension funds.
Edmondson's decision to press state charges against WorldCom and Ebbers has upset federal authorities worried that the Oklahoma case may disrupt their own investigation.
It also has drawn criticism from the corporate world.
Warren Dennis, a partner in the corporate governance and defense group of Proskauer Rose LLP, a large national law firm with offices in New York and Washington, saw the arraignment as ``a perp walk'' and ``publicity for the prosecutor.''
Dennis said the information in the Oklahoma complaint is vague and ``barely ties Mr. Ebbers at all to the events.''
Edmondson said the furor caused by the Oklahoma charges is surprising, considering the WorldCom scandal affected all 50 states and was described by a federal judge as the most massive accounting fraud in U.S. history.
``I think it would have been naive for WorldCom or its former executives to believe it would only be prosecuted in one jurisdiction _ one U.S. attorney's office in New York,'' he said.
WorldCom's collapse last year was the nation's largest bankruptcy and part of a wave of scandals to rock corporate America in the past two years.
Ebbers and five other former WorldCom executives are accused by the state of 15 felony counts, each of which carries up to a $10,000 fine and a 10-year prison sentence.
Although these are the first criminal charges against Ebbers and the company itself, other former WorldCom executives, including ex-chief financial officer Scott Sullivan, have been charged in federal court.
Sullivan was also named in the Oklahoma complaint, as were four other former executives who have pleaded guilty to federal charges and are helping federal prosecutors: David Myers, Buford Yates Jr., Betty Vinson and Troy Normand.