WorldCom Execs Plead 5th

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The House Committee on Financial Services attempted to question WorldCom founder and former chairman Bernie Ebbers, but he declined to answer, while also maintaining his innocence.

"I've been instructed by counsel not to testify based on my 5th Amendment rights," said Ebbers. "After careful consideration I have decided to follow my counsel's instruction, even though I do not believe I have anything to hide in these or any other proceedings."

Ebbers cited his 5th Amendment rights repeatedly. Former Chief Financial Officer Scott Sullivan, who sold off his shares for $30 million before the stock fell, did the same. Current Chairman John Sidgmore, in a prepared statement, said WorldCom's internal auditors discovered the discrepancy, reported it, and should be commended for doing so.

Some have blamed the accounting firm Arthur Andersen for the irregularities. But former Andersen employee Melvin Dick testified that the firm had no inkling of the discrepancies.

The stock price fell to 25 cents Friday and will soon be de-listed by Nasdaq. Conducting the hearings is an attempt to determine how the WorldCom crisis happened.

Cong. Ronnie Shows is the only committee member from Mississippi. He said "self-dealing greed at the expense of shareholders and employees must stop."

Tougher penalties and jail times are two measures President Bush is expected to call for Tuesday when he delivers a corporate plan.