MCI Pleads Innocent to Oklahoma Charges
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ MCI pleaded innocent Thursday to the first criminal charges brought against the telecommunications company in an $11 billion accounting fraud that Oklahoma prosecutors say violated state securities law.
After entering the plea at a hearing in Oklahoma County District Court, Carol Petren, MCI deputy general counsel, released a statement criticizing Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson for pursuing the case.
``It is extremely disheartening that Mr. Edmondson has brought charges against a company given the dramatic steps MCI has taken to put its house in order,″ she said.
She said the company has a new management team and internal controls in place to prevent a repeat of the problems that led to the nation’s largest ever accounting fraud and corporate bankruptcy.
MCI is trying under new management to emerge from bankruptcy and the scandal.
The Oklahoma case, which surprised and irked federal authorities, also includes the first criminal charges filed against Bernie Ebbers, the former chief executive who presided over the telephone company then known as WorldCom when it inflated revenues and understated expenses in its financial filings to make the company appear profitable.
Last week, Ebbers pleaded innocent to 15 charges that he defrauded Oklahoma investors and was released on $50,000 bail. The company and the other defendants face identical charges.
Each of the 15 charges carry a prison term of 10 years and a $10,000 fine. The company could also be ordered to pay restitution.
Other former WorldCom executives have been charged in federal court, including ex-chief financial officer Scott Sullivan, who was also charged in Oklahoma and is to make a court appearance on Sept. 17.
Four other former executives who have pleaded guilty to federal charges and are helping prosecutors are charged in Oklahoma as well: David Myers, Buford Yates Jr., Betty Vinson and Troy Normand. Court dates have not yet been set for these four.
State Attorney General Drew Edmondson charged WorldCom and the former officials on Aug. 27 on behalf of individual Oklahoma investors and state pension funds which lost $64 million on WorldCom investments.
The decision to press state charges against WorldCom and Ebbers has upset federal authorities, who are worried the Oklahoma case may disrupt their own investigation.
The Oklahoma case against Ebbers, who was released on $50,000 bail, is scheduled to resume with a pretrial conference on Oct. 30. The others charged are David Myers, Buford Yates Jr., Betty Vinson and Troy Normand.
Elsewhere on Thursday, a bankruptcy court in New York was scheduled to resume hearings on the company’s plan to emerge from the biggest bankruptcy case in U.S. history.
On Tuesday, MCI removed two of the thorniest obstacles remaining in its path from bankruptcy, agreeing to pay $353 million to silence some of the last vocal objectors to the company’s plan to repay only about $5 billion of its $41 billion debt.
The vast majority of creditors had already signed on in favor of the existing plan. Still, MCI was motivated to get more creditors on board so as to avert some courtroom mud-slinging and help speed the company’s exit from the cloud of bankruptcy.
As it is, MCI is struggling to restore its reputation amid the ongoing federal and state investigations into falsified financial reports that hid expenses and inflated profits.
Complicating the effort to put the scandal in the past is a new probe into allegations that MCI has been illegally disguising long-distance calls to avoid paying fees owed to local phone companies that connect such calls.