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Made-for-Media Arrests

July 28, 2002

Yes, it felt good to see cable mogul John Rigas, two of his sons and two other former Adelphia company executives marched off in handcuffs Wednesday. But what exactly was the point?

Was stripping the 77-year-old Adelphia Communications founder of his necktie and belt and parading him before the television cameras in New York supposed to signal that President Bush is serious about going after corporate accounting fraud? A far better demonstration would be for him to sign a tough, loophole-free reform bill.

The "Dragnet"-style arrest of the Adelphia Five was an abuse of discretion and a waste of taxpayer money. It was as tawdry as the Los Angeles County district attorney's decision this month to make a spectacle of the arrest--for outstanding warrants--of the guy who videotaped an Inglewood police officer beating a 16-year-old boy.

The Rigases and the other Adelphia executives are charged with several counts of securities, wire and bank fraud. The 68-page criminal complaint details shenanigans such as using corporate funds to start construction of a $50-million golf course on family land, buy luxury condominiums, maintain a fleet of private jets and take an African safari.

Such wretched excess allegedly helped push the company into bankruptcy. If the five executives are found guilty of fraud, they'll surely soon be cooling their heels in a cell.

Still, the made-for-prime-time arrests rankle. The Rigases had offered to turn themselves in, and no one has claimed they posed a flight risk or a danger to the community--the criteria that prosecutors normally use in deciding whether to send out the posse. In fact, federal agents have allowed some pretty notorious felons to surrender themselves. John Gotti Jr., a reputed boss of the Gambino crime family, in 1998, and Vincent "The Chin" Gigante, head of the Genovese crime family, in 1997, are just two.

The criminal justice system should not be used to make a political statement or to make the public "feel good." And an arrest, no matter how satisfying, is certainly no substitute for meaningful legislative reform.

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