NEW YORK -- Former WorldCom chief executive Bernard Ebbers pleaded not guilty yesterday to federal charges that he directed an $11 billion accounting fraud, the biggest in US corporate history.
The 62-year-old Ebbers was led to court in handcuffs after surrendering to the FBI early yesterday, a day after former WorldCom finance chief Scott Sullivan pleaded guilty to an $11 billion fraud and agreed to testify against his former boss at the nation's number two long-distance company.
Ebbers did not speak in court. His lawyer, Reid Weingarten entered the not-guilty plea to charges of conspiracy, securities fraud, and others that carry up to 25 years in prison. Ebbers was released on a $10 million bond that was partly secured by his Mississippi home.
''Bernie Ebbers never sought to mislead investors, never sought to improperly manipulate WorldCom's numbers, never improperly took any money, and never sought to hurt the company he built," Weingarten told reporters.
Trial was set for Nov. 9, but assistant US attorney William Johnson said it could be delayed because additional charges were likely against Ebbers for the conspiracy and for ''other conduct." Johnson said other people may be charged.
As Ebbers walked past camera crews to a waiting car, he turned to Weingarten and pleaded, ''Can I say something?" Weingarten shook his head, and Ebbers remained silent.
Prosecutors say Ebbers and Sullivan teamed up to deceive investors, the SEC, analysts, and others when it became apparent in September 2000 that the company was no longer able to meet growth projections. The $11 billion fraud to pump up profits and hide expenses at WorldCom came amid a series of corporate scandals that raised questions about the honesty of accounting at US companies.
The indictment filed Tuesday portrayed Ebbers as the leader of the conspiracy, resisting Sullivan's suggestion to issue an earnings warning to alert the public to the company's deteriorating prospects.
Sullivan, 42, of Boca Raton, Fla., agreed to testify to trim a potential 25-year prison sentence on charges that mirror those against Ebbers.