Business Ethics and Worldcom

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This paper will explain the fraudulent accounting practices that led to the collapse of Worldcom. Other objectives of this paper will be to demonstrate how these activities were able to go undetected. Also, what motives drove the individuals involved to commit these acts. And finally the ethical accounting issues involved.

Worldcom got its start as a small discount long distance provider in Mississippi. Founded by Bernard Ebbers and a number of others the idea for Worldcom was simple, buy long distance services from larger companies and then sell them off to small local ones. The idea worked and before long LDDS or Long Distance Discount Services, later to be called Worldcom was off and running. The company began acquiring small telecommunications firms and grew larger and larger. By 1995, Worldcom was one of the largest long distance providers in the world. As time progressed they acquired more then sixty companies, including MCI. The MCI take-over in 1997 cost over thirty seven billion, at the time it was considered the largest merger in American history. After the MCI deal Worldcom became the second largest Telecommunications Company in the United States. They owned one third of the data cables and were handling over fifty percent of all internet traffic in the United States. The growth of Worldcom was amazing, and they were the talk of Wall Street. In fact, by the late 1990's they were the fifth most widely held stock in America. A pretty big feat for a company founded out of a small Mississippi town. Worldcom rode the big wave of the telecommunications and internet boom of the mid to late 1990's. Its shares were worth about $115 billion, more then double that of telecommunications giant AT&T. However, by the end of 1999 a huge slow down was occurring in the internet and telecommunications industries. This is when the trouble began for Worldcom, as well as other telecommunications companies like Global Crossings.

Wall Street reacted to this sudden dip in these industries, and stock prices began to fall. In order to keep the faith of investors and to keep earnings from falling drastically, this is when some of the telecommunication companies began to commit fraudulent financial reporting, Worldcom being the most notorious, of these accounting frauds. It was around this time, late 1999 when executives at Worldcom began to get involved in practices that were violations to generally accepted accounting principles and highly unethical.

The accounting fraud at Worldcom was perpetrated by a number of high ranking executives, many of whom were in charge of accounting. At the forefront of the fraud was chief executive officer and founder Bernard Ebbers, in addition to allegedly instructing others to make the financial situation look better then it was, he also borrowed almost $400 million from the company to pay the margin call on his stock. Another key figure was Scott Sullivan, the company's chief financial officer, who spear headed the accounting manipulations. Sullivan also instructed key accounting staff, including the controller to follow along with his procedures.

By June of 2002, Worldcom could no longer cover up the massive manipulations to their financial reports, their unethical and improper accounting practices had left the world's second largest telecommunication company in ruins. The trading of Worldcom stock stopped trading in late June at an all time low. The news from the Worldcom scandal was so far reaching it set new post September 11th lows for the stock market. By July of the same year the company claimed for bankruptcy protection of more then $41 billion in debt. By the end of the whole scandal investigations uncovered in total an estimated $11 billion in fraud over five consecutive quarters, the fraud remains the largest in United States history, even bigger then Enron.1

The following is intended to highlight the actual accounting manipulations that took place at...
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