Since WorldCom’s, (now MCI’s) accounting fraud was uncovered last year, it has set a new corporate standard for trouble with the law: a record fine by regulators, an historic bankruptcy and indictments of some top ranking former executives.
Now corporate criminal charges can be added to that list, courtesy of Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson. In a complaint filed in the Oklahoma County District Court on Wednesday, Edmondson charged MCI along with former Chief Executive Bernie Ebbers, former Chief Financial Officer Scott Sullivan and other executives with violating securities laws.
MCI’s bankruptcy confirmation hearing is due to start in less than two weeks. Already MCI’s emergence has been complicated by accusation from competing long-distance companies that it avoided paying some access fees on phone lines.
Coming just before the confirmation hearing, the company may decide to try to reach a quick resolution in the case and said in a statement that it would cooperate fully with the Oklahoma State attorney general. MCI filed for bankruptcy in 2002 amid revelations of what would become an $11 billion accounting scandal.
But reaching a quick settlement is not an automatic process, given that it’s still unknown whether other states will also decide to prosecute. Any agreement with Oklahoma would not necessarily protect MCI from criminal charges brought by other states, lawyers said.
Will other State’s follow Oklahoma?
Mississippi, Iowa and Connecticut state prosecutors did not immediately comment on MCI, whose legal name is WorldCom Inc. The U.S. Justice Department — involved in an intense federal investigation of MCI and its former executives — declined to comment.
But the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan said it was “disappointed” it had not been told about the Oklahoma charges and had not been contacted for evidence or access to witnesses. “Competing interests can impede and delay the administration of justice,” the office said in a statement.