NEW YORK (AP) – An accounting executive who made some fraudulent entries in the books at WorldCom was sentenced Friday to five months in prison and five months of house arrest.

Betty Vinson, 49, who said she was pressured by superiors to make the false entries, had hoped to avoid prison time because she cooperated with the government in its prosecution of ex-CEO Bernard Ebbers.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones noted Vinson was among the lowest-ranking members of the conspiracy that led to the $11 billion fraud that sank the telecommunications company in 2002. It emerged from bankruptcy as MCI Inc.

Still, she said, “Had Ms. Vinson refused to do what she was asked, it’s possible this conspiracy might have been nipped in the bud.”

Vinson, the company’s former director of corporate reporting, testified at Ebbers’ trial that in choosing which accounts to alter, “I just really pulled some out of the air. I used some spreadsheets.”

Calmly standing before the judge on Friday, she said: “I never expected to be here, and I certainly won’t do anything like this again.”

Later in the day, a second former WorldCom accountant, Troy Normand, 38, was sentenced to three years’ probation. Neither Normand nor Vinson was ordered to pay a fine.

The sentence of probation came after prosecutor David Anders told the judge that Normand, an accounting manager, was “at the very bottom” of the six people who have been convicted or pleaded guilty in the scandal.

Anders said that while Vinson put “her own independent thought” into how to fudge the numbers, Normand’s role was simply to see that the books and records of the company had been changed.

Normand twice considered leaving the company – drafting a letter of resignation and rescinding it in 2000, and later having his resignation delayed by company bureaucracy in 2002.

Before he was sentenced, Normand apologized to the thousands of WorldCom employees who lost their jobs and the countless investors who lost billions of dollars when the company went under.

“I made decisions at WorldCom that today I wish I definitely hadn’t made,” he said. “My head was telling me one thing, but my heart was telling me another.”

Next week, three other former WorldCom executives face sentencings, in escalating order of their importance at the company – accounting director Buford Yates on Tuesday, controller David Myers on Wednesday and chief financial officer Scott Sullivan on Thursday.

Ebbers was sentenced last year to 25 years in prison for leading the fraud – the toughest sentence yet in the Enron-era wave of corporate scandals.

Sullivan and Ebbers have each also agreed to forfeit huge sums as part of a civil settlement related to the fraud. Ebbers will turn over his mansion in Mississippi. Sullivan will forfeit the $11 million home he is building in Boca Raton, Fla.

Vinson was ordered to report to prison Nov. 7, and the judge agreed to recommend that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons place her in a facility close to Jackson, Miss. Vinson said at the trial that she was living in Madison, Miss.

At Ebbers’ trial, Vinson said she was told to make improper accounting entries because Ebbers did not want to disappoint Wall Street.

“I felt like if I didn’t make the entries, I wouldn’t be working there,” Vinson testified. She said she even drafted a resignation letter in 2000 but stayed with the company.

She said she took her concerns to Sullivan, who told her Ebbers did not want to lower Wall Street expectations.

Vinson’s lawyer, Joe Hollomon of Jackson, Miss., had urged the judge to sentence Vinson to probation, citing the pressure placed on her by Ebbers and Sullivan.

“She expressed her concern about what she was being directed to do to upper management, and to Scott Sullivan and Bernie Ebbers, who assured her and lulled her into believing that all was well,” he said.

Vinson, who is married and has a teenage daughter, said at the trial that she was working as a controller for a food service company.

Normand, who also testified at the trial, said he was working at an equipment distributor and living in Prairieville, La. Neither spoke to reporters Friday.

Vinson and Normand pleaded guilty to fraud in 2002.

Hollomon said he did not expect to appeal either sentence.

AP-ES-08-05-05 1656EDT


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