Bernard Ebbers is heading to prison, but investors victimized in WorldCom's $11 billion accounting fraud and hoping for a share of the settlement...
NEW YORK — Bernard Ebbers is heading to prison, but investors victimized in WorldCom’s $11 billion accounting fraud and hoping for a share of the settlement money still have a wait ahead of them.
With WorldCom’s former executives being sentenced and Enron’s chiefs awaiting trial in January, the lawyers litigating investor class-action suits against corporate America’s two biggest malefactors are still collecting settlement funds and working on formulas for distributing it, which could take months.
The University of California’s Board of Regents, which won a $2.2 billion settlement from JPMorgan Chase and $2 billion from Citigroup over Enron, is lead plaintiff in a class-action suit against Wall Street firms for their alleged role in covering up Enron’s accounting problems.
With suits against other investment banks, notably Merrill Lynch and Deutsche Bank, still outstanding, the money won’t be distributed until all defendants have settled or gone to trial, the university said.
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A spokesman for New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi’s office, which is managing some WorldCom-related settlements, said it, too, is still collecting money — most notably from Ebbers himself, who recently agreed to surrender about $40 million in assets.
Those funds will be kept in a trust for investors who lost money on WorldCom stock.
Judges in both cases must approve of a system to divide up settlement funds to give claimants at least part of their money back.
The settlements won’t come close to making investors whole. Enron’s collapse wiped out some $70 billion in shareholder value, while WorldCom’s market capitalization peaked at $180 billion before evaporating in bankruptcy.
In the lawsuits filed against the bankrupt companies, Wall Street investment banks and individuals connected with the scandals, the cases have been anchored by large pension funds — from state and local government as well as private funds.
The pension funds had the biggest stakes in the two companies and will likely receive the biggest share of any settlements.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has set up a “fair fund” for WorldCom investors as part of the company’s settlement with the SEC on securities-fraud charges.
The fund holds $750 million for distribution to investors who held WorldCom stock or bonds from April 29, 1999, when the company’s fraud started, through its 2002 bankruptcy.
While the SEC has filed numerous actions against Enron executives, it has not filed against the company itself, and thus has no fair fund for Enron investors.