Wednesday, December 3, 2008

WorldCom's Ebbers asks for clemency; $11 billion doesn't seem so bad anymore

The request for clemency by imprisoned ex-WorldCom Inc. chief executive Bernard Ebbers raises some interesting questions. The U.S. Justice Department acknowledged Wednesday that Ebbers, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence for masterminding an $11 billion accounting fraud that led to the collapse of the former high-flying telecommunications firm, has asked for clemency from outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush, according to the Reuters international news service. Bush, who leaves office Jan. 20, has the power to pardon criminals or commute their sentences. But Bush, who has been inundated with high-profile clemency requests from corporate criminals, has been stingy with pardons so far. Ebbers' request is under review, a Justice Department spokeswoman told Reuters, as are similar requests by former junk bond king Michael Milken and former publishing mogul Conrad Black. Ebbers' appeal of his 2005 conviction on conspiracy, securities fraud and other charges was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court last year. Milken served 22 months for securities fraud violations in the 1990s and is requesting a presidential pardon. Black, former head of Hollinger International and a member of the British House of Lords, asked Bush to commute his 6 1/2-year sentence for defrauding shareholders. In light of the $700 billion currently being doled out to rescue an economy seemingly pillaged by Wall Street wheeler-dealers likely to be remembered one day as criminals, what Ebbers, Milken and Black were convicted of doing just doesn't seem quite so bad.

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