WorldCom news hard to accept in Ebbers’ hometown

Published 5:00 am Thursday, June 27, 2002

As news of WorldCom’s latest troubles hit the streets Wednesday,reactions were mixed in the city where the company started about 20years ago as LDDS.

While the majority of residents carried on their normalroutines, almost everyone seemed affected in some way — fromdiscouraged to upset — by the news that WorldCom hid $3.85 billionin business expenses, making the company’s earnings for 2001 andthe first quarter of 2002 appear much higher.

“It gives you a negative feeling. There was Enron and now this,so it seems there’s a lot of scandals,” said Bogue Chitto residentJimmy Burns, while drinking coffee Wednesday afternoon with somefriends at a local restaurant.

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Conversations at other local hangouts were much the same, with ageneral feeling of disgust that another company tried to deceivehonest, hard-working Americans.

“Right now I wouldn’t buy anything in the stock market,” saidSam Hudgins of Brookhaven.

Despite the anger that most people expressed, many convincedthemselves that the Enron and WorldCom scandals were isolated casesin corporate America.

“I think most businesses are good, but there are always a fewbad ones,” said Jean Jackson of Monticello.

People talked mostly about how they were disheartened by thegreat losses many local residents suffered after investing inWorldCom by buying stock.

“It (WorldCom) rose from a sharecroppers’ side of the field tothe plantation owner. People (investors) went from rags to richesand back to where they started. A lot of people have lost theirlivelihood,” said Hudgins, who said he owns more than 15,000 sharesof WorldCom stock.

Plenty of Brookhaven residents who did not invest still wishthey had been on board. Even though the ride had its bumps, theybelieve the high points would have been worth it.

“I would have invested in it if I’d had the money, and I’d haveheld on to it, too,” said Gene Spence of Brookhaven.

Another hot topic that popped up in most every place Wednesdaywas Bernard “Bernie” Ebbers, the Brookhaven resident who was CEO ofWorldCom until resigning last month.

As market analysts and people from larger cities took shots atEbbers, local folks stuck behind him.

“I can’t see where they can put the blame on one man. They(WorldCom) had stockholders and a board of directors who knew whatwas going on,” said Hudgins.

While many people believe the company is destined forbankruptcy, some remain hopeful the telecommunications giant willrise again, spreading good fortune to its loyal followers.

“I still have faith if the federal government would leave thiscompany alone and let the consumers get confidence back, it wouldcome back,” said Hudgins.