updated 7/13/2005 3:37:20 PM ET 2005-07-13T19:37:20

Some Mississippians who lost money in the collapse of homegrown telecommunications giant WorldCom say they’re satisfied with the 25-year sentence handed down Wednesday to former CEO Bernard Ebbers.

Others said the sentence is too harsh for a man long known for quiet acts of charity.

The 63-year-old Ebbers wept when a federal judge in New York told him his stiff sentence was in line the largest corporate fraud in U.S. history. Ebbers was convicted of masterminding the $11 billion accounting fraud that led to the collapse three years ago of the Clinton-based company, wiping out billions of investor dollars. He won’t be eligible for release until age 85.

“That’s a pretty strong sentence,” said John Mosley, a Clinton automotive repair shop owner who lost $20,000 on WorldCom stock.

Mosley said the court’s action “confirms Bernie was deeper into it than he wanted people to believe he was. If that’s the case, then I think he got the sentence he probably deserves.”

Harold Gary of Brookhaven, who has known Ebbers more than 30 years, said the sentence is too harsh.

Gary is a retired federal forest service agent who has investments in timber and real estate. He said he lost “millions” in WorldCom stock but he’s not bitter about the loss because he believes Ebbers is a good man who has helped thousands of people with college scholarships or through private charitable causes.

Gary said when his own grandson was born three months premature in 1995, his family was helped by Ebbers, who owned a Best Western hotel in Jackson and gave the family free rooms.

“He made the hotel available for our family as long as we needed it,” Gary said.

The baby remained hospitalized for more than three months.

Peggy Byrd of Brookhaven, WorldCom’s first employee and a longtime friend of Ebbers, said she has “been praying throughout the whole ordeal for Bernie and his family.”

“I’m saddened about the trial today because Bernie is my friend. I am sympathetic with his family,” Byrd said. “As long as I have been knowing Bernie he has been man of faith.

Video: Worker weighs in “Only a Christian would understand this next statement,” said Byrd, who first met Ebbers on an occasion he was selling sausage, candy and tulip bulbs for a school event. “While incarcerated, Bernie can be used by God to have a great influence on other people and introduce them to the plan of salvation.”

Bonita Bullock, secretary to Brookhaven Mayor Bob Massengill, said she knows Ebbers and his family and believes Ebbers could do more good out of prison doing community work.

“I really think that when we’ve got people that are selling drugs that are back on the street, murderers back on the street, why would you put a person in prison when he could be an asset to the community?” Bullock said.

Bullock said her daughters are friends with the Ebbers family and she attends the same church as Ebbers. Bullock said the trial may have turned out differently had the judge allowed testimony from some people who knew more about Ebbers.

Ebbers is the first of six former WorldCom executives and accountants facing sentencing this summer. The other five all pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate against their former boss.

WorldCom emerged from bankruptcy as MCI Inc., which has its headquarters in Virginia.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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