Gray Panthers gun for MCI

Crime pays

The Gray Panthers carry a big cane and have waved their geriatric wood at MCI (WorldCom), calling for the US government to cut back business with the troubled telco.

A series of ads cropped up this week in which The Panthers chastised MCI for shrinking the retirement savings of thousands of seniors. The oldies also gave the government a stern talking to for awarding the disgraced carrier with large contracts.

"Thousands upon thousands of seniors have had their retirements jeopardized," The Gray Panthers said. "The Government's reaction to the MCI WorldCom fraud has been as shocking as the crime itself. In the year since their fraud was disclosed, MCI WorldCom has become the government's biggest telecom provider with over $750 million in Federal government revenues in 2002, over three times as much as runner-up AT&T."

Think of The Gray Panthers as a kinder, gentler, older version of The Black Panthers. Since its start in 1970, the group has fought to make life as a retiree more pleasant.

The aged activists don't like MCI receiving any federal handouts when its actions contributed to multi-billion dollar savings losses.

Susan Collins (R-Maine), the Chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, is also curious about the relationship between Washington and MCI. She has started an investigation looking into WorldCom's deals with the General Services Administration and various other government agencies.

Clearly, the memory of WorldCom lives on despite the new MCI name.

Should the government take it easy on a company trying to make its way through a most challenging bankruptcy? Why do the senior citizens want to punish a carrier desperate for redemption?

Well, it's possibly because MCI has agreed to pay shareholders a paltry $500 million as part of settlement with the SEC over $9 billion in fraud charges.

The 40,000 strong Panthers consider this fine but a drop in the bucket - something people would not get away with back in the good old days.

"I was stunned earlier this week to see the Securities and Exchange Commission fine WorldCom $500 million one day and then the company get a multi-million-dollar federal weather satellite contract the very next day," said Will Thomas, a project director for the group. "Crime, it seems, does pay as long as you are MCI WorldCom!"

Thomas appears to have a point. Earlier this week, MCI was handed a contract to build Iraq's mobile phone network. Funny that. ®

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