Former WorldCom Chief Executive Bernard Ebbers reported to prison on September 26 to start his 25-year sentence for the part he played in a record $11 billion accounting fraud scheme. Since Ebbers is already 65, he will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars. The question posed in the Washington Post article "Cook the Books, Get Life in Prison: Is Justice Served?" that was published on washingtonpost.com is whether the penalties for economic, white collar crimes are too severe, especially in comparison to sentences for violent crimes. According to Frank Bowman, a University of Missouri law professor who was quoted in the Washington Post article, "My own sense is that any sentence over 20 years for anybody for an economic crime is hard to justify."
In a report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission (PDF), in FY03, the mean number of months a prisoner served for murder was 247.5. The mean number of months served for manslaughter was 33. Assuming that he serves his entire sentence, Ebbers will spend 300 months in prison. According to an article by cnn.com, Ebbers has agreed to forfeit most of his assets, which are valued between $25 and $40 million, and pay an extra $5 million in cash to investors, so the prison sentence comes on top of his restitution payments.
In the past, the sentences for white collar crimes were significantly shorter. However, in the wake of the Enron and WorldCom scandals, government officials have decided to crack down and enact stricter penalties for those who commit these complicated, hard-to-track crimes. According to a quote in the Washington Post article from former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Harvey L. Pitt, "You want people to understand that just because they’re in high places, they make a lot of money and they can hire fabulous lawyers, that they’re not going to walk away with a slap on the wrist."