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WorldCom attorney appears in Oklahoma County District Court

Updated:
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ An attorney representing WorldCom pleaded innocent Thursday on behalf of the company to charges that it violated Oklahoma securities laws.

The state has filed a criminal lawsuit against the telephone company, now known as MCI, and six of its former executives, including chief executive Bernie Ebbers, to charges that they defrauded Oklahoma investors by inflating revenues and understating expenses.

After the hearing in Oklahoma County District Court, Carol Petren, MCI deputy general counsel, released a statement criticizing Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson for pursuing the case.

``It is extremely disheartening that Mr. Edmondson has brought charges against a company given the dramatic steps MCI has taken to put its house in order,'' she said.

She said the company has a new management team and internal controls in place to prevent a repeat of the problems that led to an $11 billion accounting scandal and company bankruptcy.

MCI is trying under new management to emerge from bankruptcy and the scandal.

Last week, Ebbers pleaded innocent to 15 charges that he defrauded Oklahoma investors and was released on $50,000 bail. The company and the other defendants face identical charges.

Each of the 15 charges carry a prison term of 10 years and a $10,000 fine. The company could also be ordered to pay restitution.

The Oklahoma charges are the first criminal counts against Ebbers and against the company itself. Other former WorldCom executives have been charged in federal court, including ex-chief financial officer Scott Sullivan, who was also charged in Oklahoma and is to make a court appearance on Sept. 17.

Four other former executives who have pleaded guilty to federal charges and are helping prosecutors are charged in Oklahoma as well: David Myers, Buford Yates Jr., Betty Vinson and Troy Normand. Court dates have not yet been set for these four.

Edmondson charged WorldCom and the former officials Aug. 27, alleging that Oklahoma investors were illegally misled by the company.

He filed the charges on behalf of individual Oklahoma investors and state pension funds, which lost $64 million through WorldCom investments.

A pretrial conference is set for Oct. 30 for Ebbers, who faces his first criminal charges stemming from WorldCom's collapse into the nation's largest bankruptcy last year.
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