The recently ousted chief executive of a giant telecommunications company rocked with an accounting scandal told his congregation yesterday that he was innocent of wrongdoing. Appearing at Easthaven Baptist Church in Brookhaven, Miss., as usual to teach Sunday school and attend the morning worship service, Bernard Ebbers made his first public comments about WorldCom since the disclosure of $3.8 billion in improper accounting last week, "The Wall Street Journal" reported.

"I just want you to know you aren't going to church with a crook," Ebbers addressed the congregation at the end of the service. "This has been a strange week at best...On Tuesday, I received a call telling me what was happening [at WorldCom]...I don't know what all is going to happen or what mistakes have been made."

The Securities and Exchange Commission has brought a civil charge of fraud against the company, the "Journal" said. WorldCom's planned accounting restatement is already among the largest in U.S. history, six times as large as that of Enron Corp.

"No one will find me to have knowingly committed fraud," he said, teary eyed, the "Journal" reported. "More than anything else, I hope that my witness for Jesus Christ will not be jeopardized." Ebbers declined further comment after the congregation erupted in a standing ovation.

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