Should Ebbers Have Gone to Jail?

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The question as to whether Bernard Ebbers, former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and founder of WorldCom, should have gone to jail is one that many, during 2002, could easily answer with a resounding yes. However, the case goes much deeper than the visceral reaction by the public to punish those who are considered extremely wealthy. True, the violations committed by WorldCom, Ebbers, and others within the hierarchy of the company were grave and had an obvious negative impact on the public’s financial futures and standing, but we must also remember the impact this case had on the conduct of corporate business. Separating normal business practices from those practices that occur on the fringe of legality, one can make easy comparisons as to how the WorldCom fiasco helped to spotlight the practices that likely occurred throughout corporate America. Ethics is not something that can be written into law; one can be ethical and break the law just as easily as an unethical practitioner can remain within the bounds of legality. However, if rights are violated by unethical behavior, no matter the outcome, a very clear standard of legality comes into play. In the case of WorldCom, the questions of which rights were violated and whose rights were violated would serve to dictate the final answer to the question that asked if Bernard Ebbers should have gone to jail. Background In 2002 it was revealed that executives at WorldCom perpetrated accounting fraud that led to, at the time, the largest bankruptcy in history. Shortly after this revelation, WorldCom filed for bankruptcy. WorldCom financial executives had put into practice various methods of hiding expenses for a period that spanned over two years. To give the appearance of growth during periods of poor financial standing, reporting of some expenses and the misrepresentation of others was done to give investors

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