Bernard Ebbers, former President and CEO, WorldCom
Well before Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme came to light, the wireline telecom industry had Bernie Ebbers, the former chairman and CEO of WorldCom. He was at the center of one of the largest accounting scandals in history, one that defrauded investors over $100 billion.
Currently serving a 25-year prison sentence, Ebbers' rise as one of the major figures in the then still-emerging U.S. competitive service provider industry segment was nothing short of meteoric.
Following a number of years overseeing a motel chain in Mississippi, his competitive telecom wireline industry began in 1983 when he joined a group of investors to create what was then known as Long Distance Discount Services (LDDS).
Over the course of the next 12 years the service provider grew through a series of 60 acquisitions and renamed itself WorldCom in 1995. However, WorldCom's most ambitious acquisitions came in 1996 and 1997 when the service provider purchased MFS Communications and then MCI for $12 billion and $40 billion, respectively.
During his heyday, people often referred to Ebbers as the "Telecom Cowboy" because unlike the straight-laced telecom executives who dressed up every day in a suit and tie, he wore cowboy boots and jeans. At the same time, he maintained a strong religious persona as member of the Easthaven Baptist Church in Brookhaven, Miss.
In 2002, Ebbers resigned from WorldCom and was replaced by former Compaq Computer executive Michael Capellas, who renamed it MCI and led the company until it was acquired by Verizon (NYSE: VZ) in 2006.
Later in 2005, a New York federal judge sentenced Ebbers to 25 years in a federal prison in Louisiana. After a failed attempt to get the conviction overturned, he was ordered to report to prison.
As a last rite of his rich lifestyle, Ebbers drove himself to the Oakdale Federal Correctional Institution in Oakdale, La. on Sept. 26, 2006.