Ebbers, Bernie

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Ebbers, Bernie

Bernie Ebbers (Bernard John Ebbers), 1941–, American business executive and white-collar criminal, b. Edmonton, Alta, grad. Mississippi College (1967). After running a small motel chain, he entered the telecommunications business when he and three friends purchased (1983) a small Mississippi phone company. With Ebbers as president, it made a series of acquisitions, went public (1989), and, renamed (1995) WorldCom, became a global communications giant. Ebbers pursued a policy of acquisition and cost cutting, and merged WorldCom with MCI in 1998. As stock prices rose in the 1990s, Ebbers became worth well over $1 billion.

When WorldCom's stock declined in 2000, the company made massive loans to Ebbers to keep him from selling stock and further depressing its price. A Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into the loans led in 2002 to Ebbers' resignation, and WorldCom admitted that it had inflated earnings by $3.8 billion. Subsequent probes uncovered some $11 billion in fraudulent accounting practices that had fueled WorldCom's rise (and hurt other telecommunications companies by creating the impression that they were much less efficiently run). WorldCom was forced into bankruptcy, and investors lost $180 billion. Convicted in 2005 of securities fraud, conspiracy, and filing false reports, Ebbers was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

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