Good riddance to a bad crew

OK, I can finally say it: They're crooks. I'm talking about the guys who almost single-handedly managed to drive the telecom industry into the ground with their overweening greed and ego. Guys like ...

OK, I can finally say it: They're crooks. I'm talking about the guys who almost single-handedly managed to drive the telecom industry into the ground with their overweening greed and ego. Guys like:

• Jack Grubman, the research analyst who shaded his telecom research to win banking business from companies he covered (and get his kids into a pricey preschool), who was banned for life from the securities business and whose firm paid $400 million on his behalf to settle charges of fraudulent stock analysis.

• Scott Sullivan, former CFO at MCI, who pleaded guilty this spring to "knowingly and consistently" manipulating financial results, plunging his company into bankruptcy, destroying 24,000 jobs, and wiping out some $180 billion - yes, that's billion with a "b" - of shareholder value. His boss, Bernie Ebbers, is under indictment for the same crimes, so call him an alleged crook.

• Gary Winnick, founder and former CEO of Global Crossing, who has been charged with misrepresenting his company's finances, blowing through nearly $10 billion in shareholder value and 5,000 jobs while pocketing more than $500 million in annual compensation.

Like Ebbers, Winnick still is being tried so I can't call him a crook. I'll leave that language to federal judge Gerard Lynch, the federal judge overseeing a civil suit against Winnick by the banks that loaned him money. Lynch reportedly said recently: "I'm prepared to look at this case as a bunch of crooks getting sued by a bunch of bankers who are too dumb to stop throwing money down the toilet."

Couldn't have said it better myself. In fact, I couldn't have said it at all, until recently. Earlier on, when many of the verdicts had yet to be decided, my editors at Network World politely asked me to substitute the word "huckster" when I referred to the aforementioned bunch of crooks. The editors pointed out that the presumption of innocence still should apply, no matter how disagreeable the individuals to which it's applied.

Fair enough. But now the judges and juries have (almost) all spoken, and the verdict's in: They're crooks.

I know we're all ready to forget about the past, let bygones be bygones and start focusing on the tech resurgence. But before we put the past completely behind us, it's worth a final postmortem analysis. The important point is that a lot of the damage in the telecom sector was self-inflicted.

Yes, the telecom market has undergone a seismic shift - one that's dramatically changed telecom services and companies. And yes, the market economics has changed distinctly. But the take-away lesson shouldn't be that telecom is a market disaster. Despite all their failures, lies and market manipulations, the gang of crooks actually got one thing right: the vast potential of communications technology to change the world. And that change is still going on - even now that Sullivan and the others are facing their much-deserved sentences.

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