Ex-WorldCom chief Ebbers seeks clemency from Bush
NEW YORK/WASHINGTON |
NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Imprisoned former WorldCom Inc chief Bernard Ebbers has joined the list of high-profile corporate defendants petitioning for clemency in the final days of President George W. Bush's term in office.
Ebbers, convicted of orchestrating an $11 billion accounting fraud, joins former publishing mogul Conrad Black and 1980s-era financier Michael Milken in seeking clemency.
The Justice Department said on Wednesday that Ebbers has submitted a petition for commutation of his 25-year sentence to the Office of the Pardon Attorney. The petition is under review, Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney said.
Black is also seeking commutation of his prison sentence, while Milken is petitioning for a presidential pardon.
The U.S. Constitution gives the president power to grant pardons that erase convictions and shorten prison sentences. With Bush to leave office on January 20, prominent and not-so prominent criminals are making their cases for clemency.
Bush last week granted 14 pardons and commuted two sentences in low-profile cases. He has granted far fewer clemency requests than his predecessor, former President Clinton.
Clinton, on his way out of office, sparked a controversy with the last-minute 2001 pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich, whose ex-wife was a major donor to Clinton and the Democratic Party.
Among notable white-collar convicts who have not asked for pardons are homemaking guru Martha Stewart, former Enron Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling, and former Adelphia cable company executives John Rigas and son Timothy Rigas.
BAD TIMES FOR PARDONS
The current economic crisis is a poor climate for pardoning white-collar criminals, given the unpopularity of many business executives and public anger over financial bailouts, said Douglas Berman, an Ohio State University law professor who advises lawyers on clemency petitions.
"If you think the president is going to be attentive to political winds, it's hard to imagine he would burnish his legacy by granting some indisputably high-profile and therefore controversial pardons to white-collar defendants," he said.
An Ebbers attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The U.S. Supreme Court last year rejected appeal of his 2005 conviction on counts of conspiracy, securities fraud and other crimes that led to the telephone company's 2002 bankruptcy.
The Justice Department said that Black's petition to commute his 6-1/2 year prison sentence is also under review.
The former Hollinger International Inc head and member of Britain's House of Lords was found guilty of defrauding shareholders and entered prison in March. A representative for Black could not be reached for comment.
Milken's request for a pardon is also under consideration, the Justice Department said.
In one of Wall Street's biggest scandals, the junk-bond salesman served 22 months in prison after pleading guilty to securities law violations in 1990. Milken, who has battled prostate cancer, has become a well-known philanthropist for medical research and educational causes.
Milken has hired former solicitor general Theodore Olson to help him in his pardon application, according to the Washington Post. Olson successfully argued the U.S. Supreme Court case that decided the 2000 presidential election for Bush.
(Writing by Martha Graybow, editing by Anthony Boadle)
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