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Scott Sullivan, the ex-chief financial officer of WorldCom who was described by a federal judge as the “architect” of the largest accounting fraud in U.S. history, was sentenced Thursday to 5 years in prison. Southern District of New York Judge Barbara Jones said that Sullivan, 43, was “extremely fortunate” to have cooperated with the government. His cooperation secured the conviction of former WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers after a two-month trial earlier this year. Judge Jones gave Ebbers, 63, a 25-year sentence. “But for Mr. Sullivan’s cooperation, there would have been no charges filed against Bernard Ebbers,” said Sullivan’s attorney, Irvin Nathan of Steptoe & Johnson. Assistant U.S. Attorney David Anders acknowledged in court that without Sullivan’s help, prosecutors would have likely never brought charges against Ebbers. The government also sent the court a letter in which it described Sullivan as a “model cooperator” who put in many hours of diligent work with prosecutors to build the case against Ebbers. Judge Jones gave Sullivan a great deal of credit for his cooperation in unraveling the fraud that caused WorldCom to fall into bankruptcy in 2002. The company emerged last year as MCI. “I believe his value to the prosecution was enormous,” she said. “His cooperation was the key factor in the case against Mr. Ebbers.” During days of testimony, Sullivan told jurors he received direct orders from Ebbers to artificially reduce expenses and boost revenues to meet growing Wall Street expectations as the telecommunications industry sagged. Of all the witnesses to testify on behalf of the government, only Sullivan could point to such specific wrongdoing by Ebbers. In sentencing Sullivan, Jones also took into account what she called his “extraordinary family circumstances.” Sullivan’s wife suffers from severe diabetes and has been hospitalized, and the couple has a 4-year-old daughter. A contrite Sullivan told the judge, “In these situations, I pick up the pieces. … This will be an extreme burden on my wife.” Earlier in the week, former WorldCom accounting officials David Myers and Buford Yates Jr. each received a sentence of 1 year and 1 day for their guilty pleas. Other subordinates who pleaded guilty received lighter sentences: Betty Vinson, 5 months in prison followed by 5 months of house arrest, and Troy Normand, 3 years’ probation. But Jones declined to reduce Sullivan’s sentence to those levels. “Mr. Sullivan,” she said, “was the day-to-day manager of the scheme” and had a far larger financial stake in the company. She said his sentence must reflect his role in the fraud as second only to that of Ebbers. Andrew Levander of Dechert, a former white-collar federal prosecutor who was not involved in the case, said that as the “executor of the scam,” Sullivan could not leave the courtroom without a “meaningful” sentence. However, he added, a longer sentence, such as 10 years, could scare off future cooperators. Sullivan also received 3 years of supervised release. But Jones declined to impose fines or restitution payments because Sullivan had agreed to give up most of his assets, including an $11 million Florida estate, in a settlement with civil claimants. Sullivan is scheduled to surrender to authorities on Nov. 11.

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