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Former WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers is scheduled to be sentenced today for his role in the $11 billion accounting fraud that brought down one of the nation’s leading telecommunications companies. Southern District of New York Judge Barbara Jones on Tuesday rejected Ebbers’ bid for a new trial, removing the last obstacle to his sentencing. Prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District, have asked the judge to sentence the 63-year-old Ebbers to life imprisonment. The probation office, which offers federal judges advice about sentencing, made a similar recommendation after calculating that Ebbers’ crimes warranted 38 enhancements under the federal sentencing guidelines. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that while federal judges may follow the guidelines, they are not required to do so. Defense lawyers, including Reid Weingarten of Steptoe & Johnson in Washington, D.C. have urged the judge to apply a non-guidelines sentence. Ebbers’ team sent Judge Jones 169 letters from Ebbers’ friends, colleagues and family members, including emotional appeals from his wife Kristie and daughters asking the judge for leniency. In pre-sentencing filings, the defense has argued that Ebbers’ community service and medical condition warranted a reduced sentence. In another recent sentencing for corporate fraud, Judge Leonard Sand applied a sentence outside of the guidelines, giving the 80-year-old John Rigas, the lead Adelphia defendant, a shorter term than his 52-year-old son because of his age and battle with cancer. Another issue the parties in the Ebbers case have debated involves the amount of losses attributable to Ebbers’ victims. The figure, which the government claims is at least $2.25 billion, could play a significant role in determining the sentence under the guidelines. Ebbers, who helped build WorldCom from a small operation in Mississippi to one of the world’s biggest companies before presiding over its demise, was found guilty of nine counts of securities fraud and related crimes in March. The company emerged from bankruptcy in 2004 under the name MCI. In his quest for a new trial, Ebbers claimed that the judge or prosecutors should have granted immunity to three potential witnesses, all former executives of WorldCom, who could have helped clear him of charges. Citing their Fifth Amendment rights, all the witnesses declined to testify. Judge Jones did not find his arguments convincing. “‘I find that none of these grounds requires a new trial,” the Judge wrote. “Defendant fails to show that the government has used immunity to gain a tactical advantage over him, or that the testimony … would be exculpatory,” Jones wrote. On Monday, Judge Denise Cote, who is presiding over class actions arising from WorldCom’s collapse, granted preliminary approval to a civil settlement in which Ebbers will give up $5 million in cash and other assets valued as high as $40 million to injured investors. A modest sum will remain for his wife and lawyers working on his defense. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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