No verdict at Ebbers trial after 2nd day of deliberations

Bloomberg News

NEW YORK - A federal jury ended its second day deliberating accounting-fraud charges against former WorldCom Inc. Chief Executive Officer Bernard J. Ebbers without reaching a verdict yesterday.

Ebbers is accused of leading an $11 billion fraud that drove the company into the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history. The jury spent seven hours deliberating yesterday.

During the day, the jury sent notes to U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones requesting transcripts of trial testimony and exhibits, including a handwritten letter to Ebbers from former WorldCom finance chief Scott Sullivan.

The jurors returned to the courtroom twice to review two interviews of Ebbers presented at the trial. In the first interview, broadcast on the CNBC cable news channel in February 2002, Ebbers said WorldCom's declining fortunes wouldn't endanger a company dividend. In a Jan. 23, 2002, handwritten letter, Sullivan, the government's chief witness, told Ebbers there was insufficient cash flow to pay the dividend.

The verdict is likely to turn on whether jurors believe Sullivan or Ebbers, who testified in his own defense.

Sullivan testified that Ebbers, 63, repeatedly told him to "hit the numbers," which he took as license to commit accounting fraud at WorldCom, the second-largest U.S. long-distance company. Ebbers said Sullivan hid the fraud from him.

In a second CNBC interview, broadcast in September 2003, Ebbers denied any knowledge of the fraud at the company.

On their first day of deliberations, the panel asked to review more than two-dozen documents and rehear testimony.

The trial began Jan. 24. Deliberations are to resume today.

Ebbers could get up to 25 years in prison if convicted on charges of conspiracy, securities fraud and filing false statements with the Securities and Exchange Commission. WorldCom filed for bankruptcy protection in 2002, the largest reorganization in U.S. history, and emerged in April as MCI Inc.

The jury includes three current or former employees of the New York City Transit Authority, two teachers, a homemaker, and a nurse.

New York-based Verizon Communications Inc., the largest U.S. local-telephone company, has agreed to buy MCI for $6.7 billion. Qwest Communications International Inc., the No. 4 U.S. local- phone carrier, has made a competing $8 billion bid.

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