Bernie Ebbers got 25 years in the cooler for his role in the demise of WorldCom. If he serves the full sentence, he’ll be 85 years old when they let him out. Here’s how AP described his reaction when the verdict came down:
Ebbers sniffled audibly and dabbed at his eyes with a white tissue as he was sentenced. He did not address the court. His wife, Kristie Ebbers, cried quietly. Later, the two embraced as the courtroom emptied.
Now, set that picture against these remarks:
At the sentencing hearing, Henry J. Bruen Jr., 37, a former WorldCom salesman, told the court the company’s collapse caused “untold human carnage” and put him through “sheer hell.” He lost all of his savings and couldn’t get another sales job.
There are many thousands more who have been severely battered by the WorldCom collapse. Ebbers also had to cough up nearly $40 million of his own fortune as partial restitution for investors and employees whose retirement accounts were wiped out by the $11 billion accounting fraud. No doubt, many tears were shed by these unfortunates, too. Recently, The New York Times offered this summary of what Mr. and Mrs. Ebbers had to give up:
The assets that Mr. Ebbers has promised to turn over include $5 million in cash, 300,000 acres of timberlands in Mississippi, a prospective multimillion-dollar income tax refund, and interests in a major trucking business, a marina, a golf course, a rice farm, a hotel, a grain elevator company and other real estate ventures. He and his wife will also be required to vacate their multimillion-dollar home in Clinton, Miss., by October; it will be put up for sale. In addition, Mr. Ebbers has agreed to pay $450,000 to former WorldCom employees who sued him over losses they incurred in their retirement accounts.
So what’s the cure for this, and other corporate wrongdoings? Rev. Robert Sirico points to the solution in “The Ethical Challenge for Business,” a commentary written in 2002, that scandal plagued year:
If we are to learn anything from the ethical lapses of business this year, it should be that the Judeo-Christian moral code needs to be retrieved, not reformulated, much less wholesale politicization. Old truths need to be spoken into new contexts, remembering that the basic principles of right and wrong are discovered, not invented. Nor do they change based on circumstance or popularity. If this lesson is not learned from the corporate scandals, we cannot expect the moral standing of business, that activity that most people spend much of their time occupied with, to achieve a level worthy of human beings and a civilized culture.