Judge denies motion for new trial by Ebbers

From Wire Reports

NEW YORK - A federal judge has denied a bid by former WorldCom CEO Bernard L. Ebbers for a new trial, paving the way for him to be sentenced today in the record $11 billion fraud.

Ebbers had argued that the judge or prosecutors should have granted immunity to three witnesses whom Ebbers contends could have helped clear him of charges related to the fraud. His lawyers also said prosecutors unfairly prejudiced jurors by suggesting in their closing statement that there was evidence outside the trial record that proved government witnesses were telling the truth.

"I find that none of these grounds requires a new trial," Judge Barbara Jones wrote in a ruling dated Saturday and made public yesterday.

Ebbers' lawyers had sought the testimony of three former WorldCom executives - Ron Beaumont, Ron Lomenzo and Stephanie Scott - but each invoked their Fifth Amendment right and did not testify.

"Defendant fails to show that the government has used immunity to gain a tactical advantage over him, or that the testimony of Beaumont, Lomenzo or Scott would be exculpatory," Jones wrote.

She also noted that she had instructed jurors to disregard the remark in the prosecution's closing argument.

"Considering the heft of the evidence, it is extraordinarily unlikely that one oblique comment by the government at the end of a lengthy, detailed summation could have made any difference in the jury's ultimate decision to convict," she wrote.

Ebbers' lawyers also had argued that Jones unfairly told jurors they could find him guilty based on "conscious avoidance," which they said allowed jurors to convict Ebbers because he "should have known" about the fraud.

Ebbers was convicted of securities fraud, conspiracy and other charges on March 15 for directing an $11 billion accounting fraud at WorldCom, once the second-largest long-distance company. The company filed the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history in July 2002.

Prosecutors said Ebbers and his deputy, former Chief Financial Officer Scott Sullivan, began hiding costs and inflating revenue to camouflage WorldCom's slowing growth after a decline in the telecommunications market in 2000. Sullivan testified for the government and will be sentenced Aug. 4.

Defense lawyers say an appeal will be filed after sentencing. Ebbers is free on bail. A telephone call to defense attorney Reid Weingarten wasn't immediately returned.

The Associated Press and Bloomberg News contributed to this article.

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