Updated from 12:02 p.m. EST
Convicted fraudster Bernie Ebbers, who is serving a 25-year sentence for his role in the $11 billion collapse of the telecom giant
, is asking President Bush for clemency before he leaves office next month.
"I can confirm that Mr. Ebbers has submitted a request for commutation of sentence to the Office of the Pardon Attorney," Laura Sweeney, a spokeswoman for the
Department of Justice
Under the U.S. Constitution, presidents can grant pardons or reduce the sentences of people convicted of federal criminal offences. During his two terms in office, President Bush has issued more than 170 pardons and commuted the sentences of eight people, including former vice presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
With the clock ticking on Bush's departure from the White House, Ebbers has thrown himself at the president's mercy in the hope of reducing his sentence.
In 2005, the former WorldCom CEO was found guilty of securities fraud, conspiracy and seven counts of false filings with the
following a high-profile trial. The WorldCom case was one of the largest accounting scandals in U.S. history, and Ebbers' subsequent conviction was heralded as a major victory in the government's attempts to stamp out corporate crime.
WorldCom re-emerged from its collapse as
and was eventually acquired by telecom giant
The 67-year old Ebbers, who is serving his time at a Louisiana federal prison, has tried repeatedly to get his sentence reduced.
At his sentencing, Ebbers' lawyers pointed to the former milkman's charitable works and a heart condition in an attempt to win a reduced term in prison. At an appeal, the Canadian-born businessman's legal team also argued that Ebbers' sentence was steep in comparison with the terms handed out to other white-collar criminals.
Jacob Zamansky, a securities attorney who represented investors in the WorldCom case, told
that President Bush would be making a massive mistake by granting Ebbers' request.
"Ebbers harmed hundreds of thousands of investors and dashed retirement dreams; he should be punished to the full extent of the law," he said. "The sentence sent a message that securities fraud is a real crime with real victims."
Legal experts with knowledge of the pardon system, however, think that Ebbers is unlikey to get his sentence commuted.
"In a case this high profile, I doubt that it will happen," said Peter Henning, a law professor at
Wayne State University
. After waging a very public war on corporate crime, the president is unlikely to risk the furor that would inevitably follow the offer of clemency, according to Henning. "You have got to be a lot closer to Bush than Bernie Ebbers," he added.
Carl Tobias, a law professor at the
University of Richmond
also doubts that Bush will stick his neck out for the former WorldCom chief.
"Bush's record on pardons has been very stingy," he said. "Unless he changes before he leaves office, I suspect that he will grant very few."
Reid Weingarten, the lawyer who represented Ebbers, did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
The former WorldCom chief is not the only disgraced former executive seeking clemency from President Bush during his last days in office. The Department of Justice also has received requests from one-time
chairman Conrad Black, as well as former junk-bond trader Michael Milken.
Black, currently serving six-and-a-half years for fraud and obstruction, has requested that his sentence be commuted, according to Justice spokeswoman Sweeney. Milken, who served two years in prison in the 1990s after pleading guilty to securities fraud, has petitioned the department for a pardon, she added.