Previous WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers was granted an early release from prison after serving 13 years of a 25-year sentence. A federal judge granted Ebbers’ early release on Wednesday due to what his family stated was his failing health. 78 year old Bernie Ebbers was convicted in March 2005 on nine felony counts for his role in an $11 billion fraud at WorldCom. At the time, it was one of the biggest accounting frauds in history. Besides his prison sentence, he agreed to forfeit most of his assets, worth as much as $45 million, which were used to pay some of the people and entities impacted by the fraud.
According to CNNBusiness, shortly after Ebbers stepped down as CEO of WorldCom in 2002, the company filed for bankruptcy. It was the largest Chapter 11 filing in US history at the time. The charges on which Ebbers was convicted carried a maximum sentence of 85 years. Judge Valerie Caproni on Wednesday granted his family’s request for a compassionate release. One of his daughters this fall requested that the former telecom boss be released early,citing his time served and incurring health problems including blindness, weight loss and mental and physical decline.
According to Wall Street Journal, prosecutors begged to differ on releasing Mr. Ebbers. Prison officials said Mr. Ebbers’s health declined, yet a psychologist reported a discrepancy between how Mr. Ebbers presented himself for an evaluation and how he spoke to his family on the phone. According to court records, an attorney for Mr. Ebbers told the judge that people suffering from dementia can have good and bad days. Mr. Ebbers co-founded WorldCom in the 1980s and built it into one of the biggest telecommunications companies through dozens of deals. In 2002, he was ousted as CEO. A couple of months later, the company revealed the billions of dollars in accounting issues and fell into bankruptcy by 2005.
In recent months,Mr. Ebbers was transferred from FMC Fort Worth, a federal prison hospital in Texas with round-the-clock nursing care, to a private hospital to treat various ailments. Judge Caproni herself had previously expressed interest in the cause of his recent weight loss. Mr. Ebbers had cardiomyopathy, a heart ailment, when he went to prison in 2006. When Judge Barbara Jones sentenced Mr. Ebbers to prison in 2005, she noted it was likely a life sentence. She has since changed her view on how long the former telecom executive should be behind bars. In a September letter to Judge Caproni, the retired judge said Mr. Ebbers had been punished enough. Five other WorldCom executives were also convicted for their roles in the accounting fraud. One of them, chief financial officer Scott Sullivan, was a witness against Ebbers. Sullivan was sentenced to five years and served four with the remainder spent in home confinement.
Several family members of Ebbers who attended the proceeding rejoiced, sobbing and hugging one another. The judge announced her ruling and said a written decision would be released at a later time.