The judge in the trial of ex-WorldCom chief Bernard Ebbers ruled yesterday that the defense could quiz the star witness about marital infidelity, and blocked testimony about Ebbers'...

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NEW YORK — The judge in the trial of ex-WorldCom chief Bernard Ebbers ruled yesterday that the defense could quiz the star witness about marital infidelity, and blocked testimony about Ebbers’ knowledge of hearings into the Enron scandal.

The government had sought to produce evidence that Ebbers watched the hearings on the collapse of Enron and discussed them with Scott Sullivan, his chief financial officer.

Federal prosecutors had hoped to use the episode to show that Ebbers knew WorldCom’s own accounting procedures amounted to criminal conduct. Ruling on the eve of Ebbers’ trial, U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones said she did not see the relevance.

Sullivan had faced his own trial until pleading guilty last year and agreeing to testify against his former boss.

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The judge also said she would allow Ebbers’ defense lawyers to question Sullivan about marital infidelity because it addresses “Mr. Sullivan’s character for truthfulness.”

But in a victory for the government, the judge refused to grant immunity to two former WorldCom executives who the defense says could give testimony favorable to Ebbers.

The defense wants to use the two executives to show that Sullivan, not Ebbers, was behind WorldCom’s accounting tricks — but contends the government is keeping them “in limbo” and reserving the right to prosecute them.

“We don’t have a fair trial if this evidence is not before the jury,” Ebbers lawyer Reid Weingarten said, unsuccessfully trying to sway the judge.

The rulings came the day before potential jurors are to fill out questionnaires in the trial of Ebbers, who is charged with orchestrating WorldCom’s accounting fraud.

Opening statements could begin some time next week.

Ebbers, 63, has pleaded not guilty. The charges against him carry up to 85 years in prison.

Jury selection begins in retrial of Tyco case

Jury selection began yesterday in New York for the second trial of two former top Tyco International executives charged with looting the company of $600 million to subsidize their lavish lifestyles.

Prosecutors promised to present a leaner case this time against former Tyco chairman and CEO L. Dennis Kozlowski and former chief financial officer Mark Swartz.

In the first trial, prosecutors played a videotape of the $2 million birthday party Kozlowski threw for his wife on a Mediterranean island, and a video tour through his $18 million Fifth Avenue apartment.

This time around, prosecutors were expected to focus more on how Kozlowski and Swartz allegedly looted the company.

The retrial is expected to last about four months.

Kozlowski, 58, and Swartz, 44, are charged with grand larceny, falsifying business records, conspiracy and business law violations.

The defendants each face up to 30 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charges.

Their first trial, which lasted six months, was aborted last year because of a menacing letter and telephone call to a juror.