NEW YORK – A federal judge suspended the fraud trial of former WorldCom chief Bernard Ebbers (search) until Wednesday, postponing the crucial cross-examination of the government's star witness.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones did not explain her decision, but told jurors not to draw any conclusions from it. Jones adjourned the trial about 1 p.m.
Prosecutors had just completed their questioning of Scott Sullivan (search), the former finance chief of WorldCom, after 23 hours of testimony in which he implicated Ebbers in the company's $11 billion accounting fraud.
As recently as late last week, lawyers in the case said they expected cross-examination of Sullivan to begin Monday afternoon.
Reid Weingarten, the chief defense lawyer for Ebbers, declined to comment specifically when asked by reporters why Jones had called the delay. He said transcripts of lawyers' discussions with the judge on the matter had been sealed.
"It's nothing exciting," he told reporters as he left court.
On Monday morning, Sullivan testified about a memo he sent Ebbers on Jan. 23, 2002, warning him that MCI, a unit of WorldCom, would not be able to pay its dividend as planned, citing a "disaster fourth quarter."
Prosecutors also played a tape of a CNBC interview from two weeks later in which Ebbers was asked about the MCI dividend and explicitly said it was not in jeopardy.
Ebbers, 63, is charged with fraud, conspiracy and making false filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission. He has denied wrongdoing.
Sullivan, on the stand since early last week, has said he repeatedly warned Ebbers that WorldCom (search) accountants would have to falsify books for the company to meet Wall Street earnings estimates.
He has said Ebbers told him time after time the company had to "hit our numbers" — a line prosecutors say was a command to commit fraud.
The courtroom proceedings Monday came as Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) announced it would acquire MCI — the renamed, post-bankruptcy version of WorldCom — for $6.75 billion.
Last week, Sullivan testified that he and Ebbers were engaged in merger talks with Verizon in 2001 — but ended them because they were worried Verizon might unearth WorldCom's cooked books.