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Ebbers Tells Congregation That He Is Not a Crook

July 02, 2002|From Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. — WorldCom Inc. founder Bernard J. Ebbers, a key figure in the $3.9-billion accounting scandal that has placed the telecommunications giant near bankruptcy, told members of his church that he is no crook.

Ebbers spoke briefly Sunday to members of Easthaven Baptist Church in Brookhaven where he attends services and teaches Sunday school.

Congregation members say Ebbers told them he didn't know what would happen or what mistakes were made, but "no one will find me to have knowingly committed fraud."

With his emotional talk to the several hundred people in attendance, Ebbers seemed to be answering a question that's surfaced repeatedly as state and federal investigators begin their probe: How much did he know?

Church members responded to his comments with a standing ovation.

"I felt it was something he should have done for the church's benefit," said Tommy Ready, who owns a rental company in Brookhaven and attended the service. "I felt like what he did was positive, and the response from the congregation was positive."

Ebbers has been revered in Mississippi for giving the state its only Fortune 500 company and creating the opportunity for some local investors to make a fortune. He also has been a major benefactor to his alma mater, Mississippi College, and helped bring minor league professional hockey to Jackson.

He lives in Brookhaven, about 60 miles south of Jackson, and many of his early supporters and investors were hometown friends.

As his telecommunications business grew, Ebbers shifted the base of operations to Jackson before a squabble with city leaders led him six years ago to Clinton, about 12 miles west of the capital.

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