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Ex-WorldCom executive sentenced to prison

Betty Vinson, a former mid-level accounting manager at WorldCom Inc., was sentenced on Friday to five months in prison for participating in the $11 billion fraud at the telecommunications company that triggered its bankruptcy.
/ Source: Reuters

Betty Vinson, a former mid-level accounting manager at WorldCom Inc., was sentenced on Friday to five months in prison for participating in the $11 billion fraud at the telecommunications company that triggered its bankruptcy.

She also was ordered to serve five months in home detention. A former WorldCom director of management who helped prepare financial documents, Vinson testified for the government in the trial of former Chief Executive Bernard Ebbers.

Separately, another former WorldCom official, accountant Troy Normand, was sentenced to three years of probation by the same judge.

Prosecutors said Normand deserved leniency because he was at the “very bottom” of the hierarchy that perpetrated the business fraud at the company.

Vinson and Normand were the first of five former WorldCom officials -- who all cooperated with prosecutors probing financial wrongdoing at the company -- who face sentencing over the next week.

Ex-WorldCom Chief Financial Officer Scott Sullivan, considered the star witness at Ebbers’ trial, will be sentenced next Thursday.

Vinson, 49, and Normand, 38, each pleaded guilty to one count of securities fraud and one count of conspiracy. Both testified at Ebbers’ trial, describing bogus accounting designed to help the company meet its profit expectations.

Ebbers was found guilty in March and sentenced last month to 25 years in prison.

At Vinson’s hearing, defense attorney Joseph Hollomon asked Manhattan federal judge Barbara Jones for probation rather than jail time.

But the judge said it was necessary to impose some prison, although Jones cut the sentence because she said Vinson’s cooperation with prosecutors “played a very significant role in the unraveling of the fraud.”

Vinson “was among the least culpable members of the conspiracy at WorldCom,” and likely participated in the fraud because she was afraid of losing her job, Jones said.

That did not excuse Vinson’s behavior, however, the judge said.

“It’s possible this conspiracy might have been nipped in the bud” if Vinson had refused to carry out her superiors’ orders, Jones said.

Vinson faced a possible maximum prison term of 14 years, but had been widely expected to receive a lighter sentence because she cooperated with prosecutors.

In brief, barely audible remarks to the judge, Vinson said she “never expected to be here” and “certainly will never do anything like this again.”

The judge ordered Vinson to begin serving her sentence on Nov. 7. Her lawyer requested that she be housed in a prison near friends and family in Jackson, Mississippi, but federal probation officials will make a final determination.