Feb. 3 (UPI) -- Bernard John Ebbers, the former telecommunications executive who served more than a decade in prison for orchestrating one of the largest fraud schemes in U.S. history, died Sunday, according to his family. He was 78.
Ebbers, the onetime CEO of former telecom giant WorldCom, spent 13 years in prison before a federal judge released him in December because of his deteriorating health. He was serving a 25-year sentence for his part in an $11 billion accounting fraud scandal at WorldCom.
"My family and I are thankful for the time that we had to be with and care for dad in his final days. We are especially grateful for the team that helped us secure his release, and particularly Graham Carner, our attorney," the family said in a statement.
Ebbers' family had told U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni before his release that he suffered from dementia, had lost a great amount of weight and was legally blind. Federal prosecutors opposed his release, suggesting Ebbers was faking illness to be released early. He was to remain in prison until 2028.
WorldCom was once considered a great U.S. success story, as the Canadian-born Ebbers turned a small Mississippi phone company into an 80,000-employee telecom behemoth. Ebbers at one time was worth an estimated $1 billion.
The company filed for bankruptcy in 2002, which at the time was the largest in U.S. history, and Ebbers was convicted three years later of securities fraud, conspiracy and filing false reports. WorldCom employees lost their pensions, insurance and their jobs in the process.
AT&T, in an attempt to keep up with WorldCom at the time, laid off thousands in a bid to rival WorldCom's falsified profits. WorldCom's assets were bought by Verizon Communications in 2006 and now operates as the carrier's business division.
MCI merged with WorldCom in 1997 to form MCI WorldCom, and attempted to merge with Sprint two years later, but the deal failed over antitrust concerns by the Justice Department. In 2000, the company dropped "MCI" from its name.