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Corporate criminals strike out in 2005.

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It's official: 2005 was a bad year for white-collar criminals. It was the year courts decided to make an example of top executives with long sentences and steep fines.

Consider the fates of convicted corporate executives last year:

* Bernard Ebbers, former boss of WorldCom, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for spearheading the company's record $11 billion accounting fraud. Ebbers' tough sentence followed a trial in which he flatly denied any knowledge of the massive book-cooking that went on at the telecom.

* John Rigas, founder of Adelphia, got 15 years in prison for stealing from the cable giant. His son Timothy, the former chief financial officer, got 20 years.

* Former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski, who was fond of $6,000 shower curtains and lavish parties, is now residing in a maximum-security prison. He and his own former finance chief, Mark Swartz, will serve at least 8 1/3 years--and perhaps as many as 25--after being convicted of stealing $600 million from Tyco.

* E. Kirk Shelton, former Cendant Corp. vice chairman, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in an accounting scandal that cost investors and the company more than $3 billion.

Some judges decided to make the guilty pay the price, literally. A New York judge signed off on settlement deals that forced investment banks, auditor Arthur Andersen, and former WorldCom officials to pay up $6.1 billion, much of it to be divided among 830,000 investors and institutions that lost money in the accounting fraud.

That settlement included $25 million paid by former WorldCom board members out of their own pockets and forfeiture of homes owned by Ebbers and former WorldCom finance chief Scott Sullivan.

Investment banks and former directors agreed to pay more than $7 billion in a similar settlement over the Enron collapse, including $13 million paid personally by 10 former board members.

Also in 2005:

* Phillip Bennett, former chief of commodities brokerage Refco Inc., was accused of taking part in a conspiracy to sell $583 million in stock to the public based on falsified financial statements. He has pleaded not guilty.

* New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer sued insurer American International Group (AIG), former CEO Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, and an ex-CFO, accusing them of misleading investors and regulators about that company's finances. Greenberg retired from AIG in March, pressured by the board of directors amid regulatory probes.

The trend toward harsher sentences for corporate crooks may continue this year, when the world finds out what happens in the fraud trial of Enron founder Kenneth Lay, former CEO Jeffrey Skilling, and former Enron accountant Richard Causey.

Before the trial began in late January, Causey agreed to cooperate with the government in its case against Lay and Skilling. In exchange for a guilty plea to a single felony charge of securities fraud and for help in prosecuting Lay and Skilling, Causey will face a sentence of seven years instead of 35 to 40. Prosecutors said that sentence could be reduced by as much as two years, depending on his cooperation at the trial. Causey also agreed to pay a $1.25 million fine.

The deal that Causey reached with prosecutors is more generous than the one prosecutors reached with Andrew S. Fastow, the former Enron chief financial officer, who faces 10 years in prison after agreeing to plead guilty.

Causey is the 16th person with ties to Enron who has admitted in court to committing crimes. Formal sentencing has been set for April.
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Title Annotation:UP FRONT: News, Trends & Analysis
Publication:Information Management Journal
Date:Mar 1, 2006
Words:582
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