CORRUPTION Former WorldCom No. 2 man gets five-year prison sentence
His sentence was reduced because of his cooperation with government officials.
NEW YORK -- Scott Sullivan, credited with helping the government to convict former WorldCom chief executive Bernard J. Ebbers, was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison for his role in the largest case of corporate fraud in U.S. history.
Sullivan, who had been the telecom company's financial director, received far less than the 25 years given to Ebbers, his one-time boss, last month. The lighter sentence was seen as a powerful signal to would-be white-collar criminals to cooperate with government prosecutors rather than take their cases to trial.
At a morning hearing in a packed Manhattan courtroom, Sullivan, 43, repeatedly apologized for his actions, pleading with U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Jones to recognize the importance of his cooperation in convicting Ebbers and the health of his wife, who suffers from a severe case of diabetes. Sullivan said he was deeply concerned about the care of their 4-year-old daughter.
"I am sorry for the hurt that has been caused by my cowardly actions. I truly am," said Sullivan, sounding anxious and distraught. "I ask the court for leniency so that I can get back to my family as soon as possible."
'Model of cooperation'
Judge Jones agreed that Sullivan's assistance in the government's case was instrumental in convicting Ebbers. She called him a "model of cooperation," adding that it was important to create incentives to cooperate with the government.
For Sullivan, who pleaded guilty to fraud and other charges in March 2004, the opportunity to testify against Ebbers gave him an avenue for redemption and will allow him to leave prison before he turns 50.
"It was extremely fortunate there was an opportunity for you to cooperate," Judge Jones told Sullivan. "Mr. Sullivan, you would have faced a substantial sentence had you not cooperated with the government."
After the hearing, Sullivan hugged his mother and shook hands with his father, who suffers from Parkinson's disease. Sullivan must surrender to federal officials Nov. 11.
At the request of his lawyer, Irvin Nathan, Judge Jones said she would ask the Bureau of Prisons to place Sullivan in a minimum-security facility in Pensacola, Fla., near his home.
Sullivan's effort to win a light sentence was helped considerably by Assistant U.S. Attorney David Anders, who told Judge Jones that the government would not have been able to convict Ebbers without the help of WorldCom's former No. 2 man.
"Mr. Sullivan was not the cause of the fraud at WorldCom. Mr. Ebbers was," Anders said. "Without his cooperation, Mr. Ebbers would never have been convicted." Under nonbinding federal sentencing guidelines, Sullivan could have received as much as 25 years in prison.
Ebbers, 63, was sentenced in July, four months after a jury ruled that he had committed fraud and conspiracy in conjunction with the $11 billion accounting scam that sent WorldCom into bankruptcy, the largest in U.S. history. Ebbers, who suffers from a weak heart, has appealed the conviction.
While praising Sullivan for his cooperation, Judge Jones was quick to add that his "offenses were of the highest magnitude." Thousands of shareholders lost billions of dollars when the extent of WorldCom's fraud became public.
In addition, she pointed out that in June 2002 when WorldCom first acknowledged fraud at the company, Sullivan initially denied any involvement.