Support of community still strong

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Despite his conviction on all counts of fraud and conspiracycharges, some Brookhaven investors and associates of formerWorldCom Bernie Ebbers remained supportive Tuesday after theverdict was announced in a New York courtroom.

While several people contacted would not comment for variousreasons, those who did seemed to be willing to give Ebbers thebenefit of the doubt and lamented the guilty verdicts.

“I’m so disappointed over it,” said Charles “Chid” Lofton, alocal businessman and longtime friend of Ebbers’. “I don’t think hewas guilty.”

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Lofton was disappointed that the trial was held in New York. Hespeculated the verdict may have been different if the trial wereheld in the South.

Lofton said he bore no ill will toward Ebbers for his financialloss. He and others cited personal responsibility and greed intheir decisions regarding their investments.

“I helped ride it down from $8 million to zero, but he’s stillmy friend,” Lofton said. “If he’s guilty, he’s not responsible forme losing money. I could have gotten out at any time, but I chosenot to.”

Others questioned the motivation in the prosecution and how thejury reached its verdict.

“It’s not justice; it’s politics,” said Ernie Clark, a localreal estate broker. “To take one man’s word over another’s isridiculous.”

Developer John Lynch said there are no winners in thesituation.

“I hate it. It’s sad, ” Lynch said.

Lynch said he was surprised Ebbers was found guilty on all thecharges, considering the number he was facing. He invested money inWorldCom and lost money, but holds no animosity toward Ebbers.

“I had the information to get out at any time,” he said.

Dott Cannon, who invested in the company when it was LDDS, saidshe was devastated and sorry for the convictions. She said Ebbers,as CEO, was responsible for activities under his watch and sheanticipated he would be found guilty at least partially.

“I felt he was going to get some sentence because he was CEO,but I didn’t think it would be on all counts,” Cannon said.

Cannon voiced comments similar to Lofton’s regarding financiallosses due to declining stock values.

“I could have sold mine at some point and gotten out,” Cannonsaid.

Local funeral home owner Robert Tyler was among some Brookhavenresidents who were approached about making an initial investmentwhen LDDS was forming. Tyler rejected.

Tyler said he eventually became an investor, sold his stock andmade money. He did not have any stock when it collapsed.

“I still believe Bernie is innocent,” Tyler said. “I believe inBernie.”

Phil Turner, administrator at Easthaven Baptist Church whereEbbers and his family attend, expressed support as news of verdictreached the church and began to spread across town Tuesdayafternoon.

“We’re praying for him and his family, and we love them,” Turnersaid. “We know this is a very difficult time for them.”

While reading a news account of the verdict, Roland Wall said hewould describe Ebbers as a girls basketball coach with an uncannyability to market. Wall speculated that if Ebbers took accountingin college, he would make a C or D “at the most.”

“I think he’s honest as the day is long,” said Wall, a longtimeacquaintance of Ebbers.

Echoing part of the defense’s theory, Wall said Ebbers dependedon his associates in running the company. Wall acknowledged,though, that he was not on the jury.

“I’m real disturbed he was found guilty,” Wall said.

Wall also commented on Ebbers’ activities in support ofBrookhaven, Clinton, WorldCom’s former headquarters, andMississippi College, which Ebbers attended.

“He never forgot Brookhaven,” Wall said. “He invested a lot ofmoney in Brookhaven.”

Insurance agent Bobby Britt said he was disappointed for Ebbersand all involved in the situation.

“It’s not a happy day for me,” Britt said. “I don’t want tobelieve he did it, and the man I know didn’t do it.”

Britt and Ebbers worked at the old Stahl Urban plant during the1970s. While they worked in different departments, Britt said hesaw Ebbers often then and they worked on a few projectstogether.

Britt was also an investor in WorldCom.

“I lost some money, but I had the chance to make money,” saidBritt, describing his losses as not a great sum. “The decision wasmine whether to sell or hold.”

Daily Leader Business Writer Tammie Brewer contributed tothis report.