Bernard Ebbers
Ebbers c. 2000
Born(1941-08-27)August 27, 1941
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
DiedFebruary 2, 2020(2020-02-02) (aged 78)
Criminal statusDeceased[1]
Linda Pigott
(m. 1968; div. 1997)
Kristie Webb
(m. 1999; div. 2008)
Criminal chargeSecurities fraud, conspiracy
Penalty25-year imprisonment
Imprisoned atFederal Correctional Institution, Fort Worth

Bernard John Ebbers (August 27, 1941 – February 2, 2020) was a Canadian businessman and the co-founder and CEO of WorldCom. Under his management, WorldCom grew rapidly but collapsed in 2002 amid revelations of accounting irregularities, making it at the time one of the largest accounting scandals in the United States. Ebbers blamed his subordinates but was convicted of fraud and conspiracy.[2] In December 2019, Ebbers was released from Federal Medical Center, Fort Worth, due to declining health, having served 13 years of his 25-year sentence, and he died just over a month later.

In 2013, and CNBC named Ebbers as the 5th-worst CEO in American history.[3] In 2009, Time named him the 10th-most corrupt CEO of all time.[4]

Dubbed the "Telecom Cowboy," Ebbers often wore boots and blue jeans instead of the typical corporate uniform of a suit and tie. He also lived on a farm and loved to drive a tractor.[5][6]

Early life and education

Ebbers was born in Edmonton, Alberta, the second of five children of Kathleen and John Ebbers, a traveling salesman.[5] His family were devout Christians.[7]

When Ebbers was young, the family moved to California and later lived for a while on a mission post on a Navajo Nation Indian reservation in New Mexico before moving back to Canada when Ebbers was a teenager.[5]

After high school, Ebbers briefly attended the University of Alberta and Calvin College before enrolling at Mississippi College on a basketball scholarship. Between schools, he worked as a milkman and bouncer. An injury before his senior season prevented him from playing his final year and he was instead assigned to coach the junior varsity team.[8] In 1967, he received a Bachelor's degree in physical education, with an academic minor in secondary education, from Mississippi College.[9]


Ebbers began his business career operating a chain of motels in Mississippi.[9]

In 1983, in a coffee shop in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, he and 3 other investors formed Long Distance Discount Services, Inc. and in 1985, he was named chief executive officer. The company acquired over 60 telecommunications firms and in 1995, it changed its name to WorldCom.[10]

In 1996, WorldCom acquired MFS Communications (originally Metropolitan Fiber Systems)[11] and in September 1998, it acquired MCI Communications.[12][13] In July 2000, it abandoned its planned $115 billion acquisition of Sprint Corporation after U.S. and European Union antitrust regulators raised objections.[14]

Between September 2000 and April 2002, the board of directors of Worldcom authorized several loans and loan guarantees to Ebbers so that he would not have to sell his Worldcom shares to meet margin calls as the share price plummeted during the bursting of the dot-com bubble. By April 2002, Ebbers had lost substantial support on the board due to these loans. Additionally, a number of directors believed Ebbers had not charted a way forward after the Sprint merger collapsed. On April 26, Worldcom's board voted unanimously to demand that Ebbers resign, which he formally did on April 30, 2002. As part of his departure, his loans were consolidated into a single $408.2 million promissory note.[15][16][17] In 2003, Ebbers defaulted on the note and Worldcom foreclosed on many of his assets.[18]

Awards and accolades


On June 25, 2002, WorldCom admitted to nearly $3.9 billion in accounting misstatements and on July 22, 2002, it filed for bankruptcy.[23]

The figure eventually grew to $11 billion. This initiated a series of investigations and legal proceedings, which focused on Ebbers, WorldCom's former CEO.[24][25]

Ebbers blamed the accounting scandal on his subordinates, including WorldCom CFO Scott Sullivan.[26]

Congressional hearing

In response to a subpoena, Ebbers appeared before the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services on July 8, 2002. At these hearings, Ebbers stated "I do not believe I have anything to hide, I believe that no one will conclude that I engaged in any criminal or fraudulent conduct."[9]

After making this statement, Ebbers asserted his right against self-incrimination per the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Ebbers's statement constituted testimony that could not undergo cross-examination and Ebbers was threatened with Contempt of Congress charges, although no charges were filed.[27]

Criminal charges and verdict

On August 27, 2003, Attorney General of Oklahoma Drew Edmondson filed a 15-count indictment against Ebbers.[28] The indictment charged that he violated securities laws by defrauding investors on multiple occasions between January 2001 and March 2002.[29] On November 20, 2003, the charges by Oklahoma were dropped, with the right to refile retained, to defer to federal charges.[30] On March 2, 2004, federal authorities indicted Ebbers on securities fraud and conspiracy charges.[24][31] On May 25, 2004, federal prosecutors increased the list of charges to 9 felonies: 1 count each of conspiracy and securities fraud, and 7 counts of filing false statements with securities regulators. On March 15, 2005, Ebbers was found guilty of all charges.[32] On March 30, 2005, an agreement to extend the statute of limitations on the charges from Oklahoma was signed, allowing Oklahoma prosecutors time to see the results of federal sentencing.[33][34]

Sentencing and jail time

On July 13, 2005, federal judge Barbara S. Jones, of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, sentenced Ebbers to 25 years in a federal prison in Louisiana. Ebbers was allowed to remain free for another year while his appeal was being considered. His conviction was upheld in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in July 2006.[35] On September 6, 2006, the presiding judge ordered him to report to jail on September 26 to start serving his 25-year sentence. Ebbers reported to Oakdale Federal Correctional Institution in Oakdale, Louisiana, on September 26, 2006, driving himself to the prison in his Mercedes-Benz vehicle.[36][37] Ebbers served in the low-security portion of the complex, which typically houses non-violent offenders and is built like a school dormitory. He was granted early release after serving 12 years in December 2019, due to health problems.[38]

Civil suits

On October 11, 2002, WorldCom investors brought a class action civil lawsuit against Ebbers and other defendants, alleging injuries as a result of Ebbers's securities fraud violations. Judge Denise Cote of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ordered the parties in the lawsuit to negotiate. The parties agreed that Ebbers and his codefendants would distribute over $6.13 billion, plus interest, to over 830,000 individuals and institutions that had held stocks and bonds in WorldCom at the time of its collapse. Ebbers agreed to relinquish almost all of his assets, including a home in Mississippi, and his interests in a lumber company, a marina, a golf course, a hotel, and thousands of acres of forested real estate. After the settlement, Ebbers's wife was left with an estimated $50,000 in known assets. On September 21, 2005, Judge Cote approved the settlement and dismissed the lawsuit against Ebbers.[39][40][41]

Personal life


In 1968, Ebbers married Linda Pigott and the couple raised three daughters. Ebbers filed for divorce in July 1997 and married his second wife, Kristie Webb, in the spring of 1999. She filed for divorce on April 16, 2008, less than two years after he entered prison.

Personal holdings

At his peak in early 1999, Ebbers was worth an estimated $1.4 billion and listed as 174th on the Forbes 400. His personal holdings included:[42]

Other activities

From 1993 through 1995, Ebbers served as chairman of the board of directors of the Competitive Telecommunications Association, where he pleaded with the United States Congress to improve competition with the incumbent telecommunications companies.[45]

In 1997, he became the chair for Mississippi College's New Dawn Campaign, a $100 million fundraising campaign to improve campus facilities.[46]

In July 2001, Ebbers was proposed by George W. Bush as the chair for the President's National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee.[47]

Religious faith

While CEO of WorldCom, Ebbers was a member of the Easthaven Baptist Church in Brookhaven, Mississippi. As a high-profile member of the congregation, Ebbers regularly taught Sunday school and attended the morning church service with his family. His faith was overt, and he often started corporate meetings with prayer.[24]

When the allegations of conspiracy and fraud were first brought to light in 2002, Ebbers addressed the congregation and insisted on his innocence. "I just want you to know you aren't going to church with a crook," he said. "No one will find me to have knowingly committed fraud."[9][48]


Ebbers died at his home in Brookhaven, Mississippi, on February 2, 2020, at the age of 78, just over a month after being granted compassionate release from prison due to his ill health. His lawyers said that he was, by the time of his death, legally blind and suffering from dementia, anemia and significant weight loss.[49][50]


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  43. ^ Schiffman, Betsy (June 6, 2003). "Bernie Sells The Farm". Forbes.
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  45. ^ Antitrust and Communications Reform Act of 1993: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Economic and Commercial Law of the Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives. U.S. Government Printing Office. 1994. ISBN 9780160458125.
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  47. ^ "President Bush to Announce Several Individuals to Serve in his Administration" (Press release). White House Office of the Press Secretary. July 9, 2001.
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Further reading