Ebbers-WorldCom Fraud Case Goes to Jury

A jury began deliberations but did not reach a verdict Friday in the trial of former WorldCom chief Bernard Ebbers (search), accused of orchestrating the $11 billion accounting scheme that bankrupted the company.

The panel of seven women and five men spent about five hours discussing the case before adjourning for the week. They were to resume deliberations Monday morning.

Just before going home, the jury sent a note asking to review more than three dozen exhibits and chunks of testimony from the trial, including some key testimony from star prosecution witness Scott Sullivan (search).

Click here to read the indictment against Bernard Ebbers (FindLaw pdf)

Sullivan, who was chief financial officer under Ebbers, testified that Ebbers pressured him into falsifying financial records at WorldCom (search) from 2000 to 2002.

Jurors also asked to review the transcript of a 2001 voice mail in which Sullivan warns Ebbers that WorldCom's numbers have "accounting fluff" in them.

The defense has argued the voice mail was referring to ways WorldCom counted revenue and represented nothing illegal.

Earlier Friday, U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones gave jurors 90 minutes of instructions on the law, urging them to weigh the evidence with clear thinking and without sympathy.

"You, the members of the jury, are the sole and exclusive judges of the facts," she told them.

The jury must decide whether Ebbers, 63, orchestrated the fraud that drove WorldCom into the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history in 2002. He is charged with fraud, conspiracy, and lying to the Securities and Exchange Commission — crimes that carry up to 85 years in prison.

On Thursday, the jury heard a four-hour closing argument from defense lawyer Reid Weingarten, who pinned the fraud entirely on Scott Sullivan, who was finance chief under Ebbers and testified against him at trial.

"He was more rehearsed on his direct testimony than the actor who plays Hamlet on Broadway," Weingarten said. "It's hard to come up with a script where a witness has a greater motive to lie."

Sullivan, 43, hopes to win a lighter prison sentence by helping the government. He has admitted carrying out the fraud, but claims Ebbers pressured him to do it in order to keep WorldCom stock high.

"He was more rehearsed on his direct testimony than the actor who plays Hamlet on Broadway," Weingarten said. "It's hard to come up with a script where a witness has a greater motive to lie."

Weingarten noted that, as Bank of America issued one margin call after another on the loans because of the falling stock price, WorldCom stepped in to guarantee the loans — taking the pressure off the CEO.

If Ebbers had wanted to cook the books, Weingarten said, "the first thing you would do is dump your stock." Ebbers did not sell — and even bought WorldCom stock after he resigned as CEO in April 2002. WorldCom later sought bankruptcy protection and emerged as MCI Inc.

But Weingarten reserved his strongest rhetoric for Sullivan, the only government witness to directly link Ebbers to the fraud.

He described Sullivan as a brilliant, highly respected accountant who became drunk on his own power — and compared his zeal for falsifying the numbers to his admitted past use of cocaine.

Weingarten ticked off a series of what he called lies in Sullivan's testimony and contradictions with the testimony of other witnesses and documents that were produced as evidence.

"It's to the point where I think he thinks he can get away with anything," he said. "And whatever will fly will fly."

Weingarten described the case as "98 percent Sullivan, 2 percent Myers" and said bluntly of Ebbers: "This man has committed no crimes."

In a rebuttal statement — the government's final argument to jurors — prosecutor David Anders sought to bolster Sullivan's credibility, admitting Sullivan had lied in the past but saying he had come clean.

"Scott Sullivan was a candid and forthright witness. He was never evasive in answering any questions," Anders said. "He has one motive here, and that's to tell the truth."

Anders also took aim at Ebbers' testimony earlier this week, in which the ex-CEO denied any knowledge of the fraud at WorldCom. On cross-examination, Anders said, Ebbers could barely answer a single question straight.

"He dodged, he bobbed, he weaved for a reason," the prosecutor said. He said that for Ebbers, to tell the truth would have been to confess to the crimes.