Sullivan testimony in WorldCom trial pins fault on Ebbers

"We have to hit our numbers": That is what the key witness says the CEO kept telling him
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NEW YORK - The jury at the fraud trial of former WorldCom chief Bernard Ebbers has slogged through a swamp of numbers, watching one arcane accounting document after another placed into evidence. Some jurors have nodded off.

But they perked up noticeably for the more than 30 hours of testimony by Scott Sullivan, Ebbers' former finance chief. And with good reason: Both the government and the defense have placed their hopes on him.

Sullivan, whose testimony ended Thursday, came across as calm and collected for the most part, but was forced to concede that no one else was in the room on the many occasions he says he expressed his worries about falsifying WorldCom's books.

He is the only government witness so far to link Ebbers directly to the fraud. Sullivan testified he repeatedly warned Ebbers that the only way WorldCom could meet Wall Street expectations would be to cook its books.

''I told Bernie, 'This isn't right,' ” Sullivan said, describing an October 2000 meeting in which he said he showed Ebbers a plan to improperly create $133 million in revenue.

''He just stared at it, and he looked up at me and he said, 'We have to hit our numbers,' ” Sullivan testified.

The phrase - ''We have to hit our numbers'' - became a refrain during Sullivan's week on the witness stand. He said Ebbers made the remark almost every quarter, and said he interpreted it as a command to commit fraud.

Once in 2001, he said Ebbers went so far as to ask him ''how we were doing it'' - covering up hundreds of millions of dollars in expenses and booking revenue where none existed.

But Sullivan admitted on cross-examination that there were no witnesses to the many conversations with Ebbers in which he told his boss he believed it was wrong to book improper accounting entries.

And a handwritten letter that Sullivan said he sent to Ebbers protesting the false entries has not turned up, despite Sullivan's claim that he sent it through his assistant, who kept copies of his outgoing notes.