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Lawyer says Ebbers knew little

NEW YORK -- A defense lawyer played two audiotapes of WorldCom's former chief in court yesterday in hopes of convincing jurors that Bernard Ebbers knew too little about the company's accounting to have overseen the $11 billion fraud that drove it into bankruptcy.

On the first day of testimony in Ebbers' fraud trial, the defense aimed to show that he left the numbers to his chief financial officer, Scott Sullivan, who has pleaded guilty and is expected to testify against his former boss.

"Those sound like all Scott questions to me," Ebbers said in an October 2001 tape in response to a detailed question from stock analyst Adam Quinton.

On that tape and one taken of a conference call with stock analysts in February 2002, Ebbers deflects complex questions about revenue, earnings and economic trends.

But Quinton, testifying for the prosecution yesterday, said Ebbers also addressed some of his concerns about the telecommunications company's accounting procedures in "a reasonable amount of detail."

In the 2002 conference call, Quinton asked Ebbers if he can give any estimate of when the US economy would emerge from recession.

"Adam, as far as indicators of . . . when we're going to come out of the recession, you know, remember, I'm a P.E. graduate, not an economist," Ebbers said. "So I don't know that I can speak to that with any credibility or anything."

Ebbers is charged with fraud, conspiracy and making false filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission in connection with WorldCom's 2002 collapse.

Those crimes carry up to 85 years in prison.

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