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In the second day of closing arguments Thursday in the fraud trial of former WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers, defense attorney Reid Weingarten tried to narrow the government’s case to its chief witness, former WorldCom CFO Scott Sullivan. Every allegation in the government’s case, Weingarten of Steptoe & Johnson told jurors at the beginning of his four-hour closing argument, relies on a “highly impeachable source.” He continued the theme throughout his presentation, as he tried to discard evidence garnered from other witnesses or documents. What he could not discredit, he explained away as innocent acts. The point was simple: to limit the government’s case to the credibility of Sullivan. “It all comes down to whether you can accept the uncorroborated word of Scott Sullivan,” said Weingarten, repeating variations of this statement several times. Sullivan, who pleaded guilty to various crimes and cooperated with the government, testified that Ebbers had pressured him to implement the accounting entries leading to the $11 billion fraud from 2000 through 2002. When news of the fraud became public, the company plunged into the nation’s largest ever bankruptcy from which it emerged last April as MCI. The collapse led to a myriad of class actions targeting WorldCom’s underwriters. Last year, Citigroup settled with plaintiffs for $2.5 billion. Thursday, as Weingarten spoke to jurors, Bank of America settled for $460 million. Nearly all the alleged orders, Sullivan admitted, took place in private. The defense strategy, said Seth Farber of Dewey Ballantine, would focus on Sullivan because of the dearth of documents and other witnesses who could definitively point to Ebbers’ alleged fraud. Farber is not involved in the case. The government in turn would try to call upon many pieces of evidence in building its case, he said. CONTRAST IN STYLE The government did just that on Wednesday when Southern District Assistant U.S. Attorney William Johnson delivered a methodical closing in his low-key style, putting forth a long chronology of events before highlighting 10 critical facts jurors should consider. Prosecutors charged Ebbers, 63, with nine counts of securities fraud and related crimes. If found guilty he could receive a sentence of up to 85 years. Weingarten’s closing arguments Thursday contrasted drastically in content and tone. The defense attorney did not offer an alternative chronology. Instead, he attacked the government’s case at every opportunity, employing a skeptical tone from the outset. Gesticulating with his hands and swinging his head from side to side, Weingarten told jurors that having listened to Johnson’s closing, “I thought I was in the wrong courtroom.” The assault began with each witness whom Weingarten summarily dismissed as irrelevant or exculpatory. In rapid-fire speech, he read off exhibit number after exhibit number without slowing down to show jurors the contents of the documents until he reached David Myers, the former controller of WorldCom, who testified that Ebbers had apologized to him for forcing the accounting department to make questionable entries. “He wants Bernard Ebbers to do his jail time,” Weingarten said, calling the confession bogus. “That dog won’t hunt,” he said in a booming voice. At other times he nearly whispered, as if inviting the jury to lean forward for an intimate conversation. The majority of his argument focused on Sullivan, who Weingarten called a perennial liar in a barrage that went on for hours. He called Sullivan’s testimony a “big lie,” a “crafty lie,” a “total lie.” Other terms he used to describe the witness were equally vitriolic, calling Sullivan’s story “preposterous … silly … pure nonsense.” At one point in his monologue, he described Sullivan’s behavior during a February 2002 analyst meeting as “a lie within a lie” when the former CFO pretended to speak extemporaneously while referring to a script. This strategy was consistent with Weingarten’s earlier attempts to discredit Sullivan during cross-examination. BUILDING A CASE Defense attorneys who have been following the case said Weingarten may have felt he had not made a strong enough case against Sullivan and thus made the decision to put Ebbers on the stand. “Typically, a defense attorney’s preference would be not to put his client on the stand,” said Jason Brown of Holland & Knight, who is not involved in the case. Joel Cohen of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan agreed. “The defendant generally testifies if there is a weak case,” he said, calling the strategy “a big risk.” Standing before Southern District Judge Barbara Jones, Weingarten spent little time on his client’s testimony other than to try to dismantle the government’s explanation of a motive. Johnson and his colleague David Anders argued that Ebbers wanted to prop up WorldCom’s sagging stock price so he could avoid hundreds of millions in margin calls and preserve his personal fortune so closely tied to the company’s stock price. WorldCom’s takeover of these loans from an outside bank, Weingarten said, relieved his client of any of this so-called pressure. While casting aside Ebbers’ alleged motives, he offered little to explain why Sullivan, working in unison with his subordinates, would mastermind such a massive fraud without the knowledge and consent of his boss. Sullivan had sold tens of millions of dollars of his shares prior to the start of the fraud, decoupling a significant portion of his wealth from the company’s fortunes. Weingarten instead focused on Sullivan’s motivation to turn in his old boss to obtain a reduced sentence. “Is Scott Sullivan a liar?” Weingarten asked. “Let me count the ways.”

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