WorldCom's Sullivan Gets Five Years

Bernie Ebbers' right-hand man had cooperated with prosecutors in the big fraud trial.
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Former WorldCom finance chief Scott Sullivan received a five-year prison sentence Thursday for his participation in the $11 billion fraud scheme that led to the collapse of the nation's No. 2 long-distance company.

U.S. Federal District Court Judge Barbara Jones cited Sullivan's role as architect of the WorldCom accounting fraud in her decision to sentence him to five years in jail. She also took into account the poor health of Sullivan's wife and the interests of the couple's 4-year-old daughter.

Sullivan must also forfeit $10 million in proceeds from the sale of his Florida mansion.

Sullivan offered no comment outside the courthouse after the sentencing as he made his way to the subway.

In exchange for a lighter sentence, Sullivan provided testimony against his former boss, Bernie Ebbers, that was key to the prosecution's successful conviction of the WorldCom CEO. Ebbers was sentenced last month to 25 years in federal prison for his role as ringleader in the biggest-ever U.S. fraud case.

Sullivan was known as one of the industry's brighter accounting talents during WorldCom's growth phase in the late 1990s. Analysts and investors found his sharp skills and firm grasp on the company's financials very helpful when they had questions about the numbers.

That, of course, was before it was known that his performance was criminally misleading and corrupt.

Ebbers' attorney unsuccessfully argued during the trial that 98% of the book-cooking at WorldCom was Sullivan's design, and Sullivan only turned and blamed his boss when faced with a heavy prison sentence.

During the trial, the prosecution cast Sullivan as a reluctant but willing soldier who carried out Ebbers' orders to "hit the number." The government's case charged that Ebbers was obsessed with impressing Wall Street and keeping the stock price up. They say he fixed the books to save WorldCom's stock, which was the basis of his personal fortune.

Ebbers' defense attorney tried to convince jurors that the former CEO had no mind for math or the intricacies of balance sheets. Ebbers attorney Reid Weingarten told the story of a man who came from humble beginnings and twice flunked out of college before finding his way as a high school basketball coach in Jackson, Miss., and later as a telecom rollup artist extraordinaire.

Ebbers was forced out of WorldCom by an angry board in 2002. Soon afterward the company filed for Chapter 11. It emerged from bankruptcy last year as

MCI

(MCIP)

and agreed earlier this year to merge with

Verizon

(VZ) - Get Report

over the repeated protests of

Qwest

(Q)

.