NEW YORK – Federal prosecutors are seeking what amounts to a life sentence for former WorldCom (search) CEO Bernard Ebbers (search), convicted earlier this year in the company's $11 billion accounting fraud.
Ebbers, 63, faces up to 85 years in prison. His sentencing is scheduled for July 13. Five other former WorldCom executives who pleaded guilty in the fraud are also awaiting sentencing this summer.
In sentencing papers filed with Judge Barbara Jones, the government noted that federal probation officers have already recommended a life sentence for Ebbers based on sentencing guidelines. The government said Jones should impose a sentence "consistent" with those guidelines and also follow a recent case in which Adelphia Communications Corp. (search) founder John Rigas (search) received what amounted to a life sentence.
"By any objective measure of the harm caused, Ebbers's conduct was as detrimental to shareholders as that of John Rigas," prosecutors said in their filing.
"The enormity of the crimes that Ebbers committed cannot be overstated: The fraud at WorldCom was the largest securities fraud in history," prosecutors wrote. "Along with Enron, the name WorldCom has become synonymous with fraud."
Ebbers has argued he should receive a lighter sentence in part because of his poor health, including a history of serious heart problems.
The government rejected that argument in its sentencing papers, saying the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (search) was capable of caring for the former chief executive. It also said the judge should not consider Ebbers' good works and public service.
Ebbers' attorneys argued for a sentence "well below the draconian, life sentence proposed by prosecutors" and cited "serious heart-related illnesses."
WorldCom collapsed into bankruptcy in 2002 after Ebbers resigned and the fraud came to light. It has since emerged from bankruptcy and operates now under the name MCI.
In late May, Judge Jones delayed the sentencing until July 13 to allow Ebbers' attorneys and the prosecutors more time to file papers related to the sentencing.
Last week, stiff prison sentences were handed down in the same courthouse to Rigas and his son Timothy, Adelphia's former finance chief.
John Rigas was sentenced to 15 years in prison for concealing loans and stealing millions of dollars after his attorney requested a sentence of probation or home confinement, while Timothy Rigas was sentenced to 20 years in prison. His attorney had asked for a term of six months.
During the sentencing, U.S District Judge Leonard Sand warned the 80-year-old Rigas his sentence would have been harsher if not for his age and poor health.
In the Ebbers case, the government argued for a sentence similar to the one given to Rigas. The government also cited sentences passed on Patrick Bennett, former president of the privately held Bennett Financial Group (search), 22 years; and Steven Hoffenberg, former chairman and CEO of Towers Financial Corp (search) , 20 years.
In a possible warning to Ebbers, Rigas was told his lack of remorse did not weigh well in the court.
"Even to this moment, although you say you made mistakes, you say you did nothing wrong," Judge Sand told John Rigas. "That is what is unacceptable for you and others who occupy similar positions."
Tyco International Ltd. (TYC) former CEO Dennis Kozlowski (search) and his chief lieutenant, ex-finance officer Mark Swartz (search), also await sentencing following their grand larceny and conspiracy convictions last week in New York state court.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.