Two former WorldCom execs plead guilty in accounting fraud

NEW YORK -- Two executives who oversaw WorldCom's financial record-keeping pleaded guilty Thursday to charges stemming from a federal probe of the company's multibillion-dollar accounting scandal.

Betty Vinson, the former director of management reporting, pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and securities fraud. Later in the day, Troy Normand, the director of legal entity accounting, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and securities fraud for his part in the same scheme.

Normand, 35, and Vinson, 47, were top executives in WorldCom's general accounting department.

Both were also sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday for their roles in the telecommunication company's $7.2 billion accounting debacle.

During her plea, Vinson said she was ordered by her bosses in October 2000 to misstate $800 million on WorldCom's ledgers.

"I was very concerned about the order to make the adjustment," Vinson told Judge Andrew J. Peck.

Over the next year and a half, she carried out similar orders to transfer huge sums in expenses in a scheme to hide WorldCom's financial woes from the investing public, she said.

Outside court, her attorney Joseph Hollomon said Vinson had protested the changes but was overruled by her supervisors.

No talk with CEO

Hollomon said his client rarely had contact with former CEO Bernard Ebbers, but he wouldn't say if she could provide evidence against him. Ebbers has not been charged with any crime, and he has denied wrongdoing.

Vinson faces up to 10 years in prison on the most serious charge, securities fraud, but may get substantially less for providing testimony in the case.

Vinson's admissions come three days after her immediate boss, Buford Yates, admitted guilt to his role in the scheme as part of a deal to cooperate with prosecutors. Yates' direct supervisor, ex-Controller David Myers, has also pleaded guilty.

In their pleas, Myers and Yates said the orders to falsify WorldCom's ledgers came from the top levels of corporate management.

Myers, Yates, Vinson and Normand are expected to provide evidence against Scott Sullivan, the former chief financial officer, who has been indicted but has maintained his innocence in the case.

Prosecutors are also collecting evidence to determine what Ebbers knew about the large-scale fraud.

An indictment filed by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office estimates the scheme helped hide roughly $3.8 billion in expenses and overstate earnings by $5 billion.

WorldCom officials have said the total amount of financial misstatements is around $7 billion, and some reports have put the figure at $9 billion.

Prosecutors say Vinson and Normand carried out orders from Sullivan and Myers to disguise the $3.8 billion in operating expenses as capital expenses.

"As Sullivan, Myers, Yates, Vinson and Normand well knew, there was no justification in fact or under generally accepted accounting principles for these entries," according to the indictment.

Sullivan, who is free on $10 million bond, is under increasing pressure to cooperate after the pleas by the four other WorldCom executives.

Sullivan's lawyer, Irv Nathan, has said his client is a victim of a "rush to judgment."