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Prison date set for Adelphia founder, son

June 28, 2007|From the Associated Press

NEW YORK — Their appeals all but exhausted, Adelphia Communications Corp. founder John Rigas and his son Timothy will head to prison Aug. 13 for their role in one of the largest corporate frauds in U.S. history.

U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand gave the men, once among the country's richest, a little less than seven weeks to put their affairs in order. He rescinded an order that had allowed them to remain free on bail for three years while their appeal worked its way through the courts.

"Too much time has elapsed," Sand said at a hearing Wednesday.

Neither the 82-year-old family patriarch nor his 51-year-old son reacted when the judge handed down the order, which had been expected. Both appeared downcast afterward as they hugged relatives in a courthouse hallway.

A federal appeals court in May cleared the way for the pair to begin serving time when it upheld all but one count of their 2004 convictions on multiple charges of securities fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud and bank fraud.

John Rigas was sentenced to 15 years, and Timothy, the company's former chief financial officer, received 20 years for their role in the collapse of one of the nation's largest cable television companies.

Prosecutors alleged that the pair concealed nearly $2.3 billion in Adelphia debt from stockholders, making the company appear to have a healthy balance sheet even though its finances had become dangerously overextended.

They also accused the family of using the company as their personal cash machine, withdrawing millions of dollars to buy such items as 100 pairs of bedroom slippers for Timothy Rigas and using more than $3 million to produce a film by John Rigas' daughter.

Last year, another son, Michael Rigas, was sentenced to 10 months of home confinement after pleading guilty to a charge of making a false entry in a company record.

The investigation began after Adelphia announced its 2001 results in a March 2002 news release that included a footnote stating that it had billions in liabilities not previously reported on its balance sheet.

At sentencing in 2005, John Rigas maintained his innocence.

"In my heart and in my conscience, I'll go to my grave really and truly believing that I did nothing but try to improve the conditions of my employees," he said.

The next step in the case will be for the federal Bureau of Prisons to decide where they will serve time. The sentencing judge, citing the elder Rigas' poor health, had previously said his term might be cut short if he serves at least two years.

John Rigas, the son of Greek immigrants, borrowed money from his family in the early 1950s to buy a movie theater in Coudersport, Pa., about 20 miles south of the New York-Pennsylvania state line. In 1952, he bought the rights to wire the town for cable television and began his company.

The problems arose after Rigas took Adelphia public in 1986 and the company grew rapidly in the late 1990s. To keep family control of the company, the Rigas family had to buy an equal number of shares for those they issued to raise money.

The appeals court said Adelphia's public filings suggested that the Rigases had paid cash for the stocks when they actually had borrowed funds to pay Adelphia and then caused Adelphia to use that cash to pay off other family debts.

After years of fighting the case, the Rigas family is almost out of options. They have asked the appeals court to reconsider the case and they plan to ask the Supreme Court to intervene, but such requests are rarely granted.

Sand noted that the delay in imposing the Rigases' punishment has been unusual. The sentencing was delayed for nearly a year while the men negotiated with prosecutors over restitution payments to Adelphia stockholders.

Adelphia was the country's fifth-largest cable television company before its collapse in 2002. At its peak, it served more than 5 million customers in 31 states. Its stock value was nearly erased after the company disclosed its off-balance-sheet debt.

The company filed for bankruptcy protection, severed its ties with the Rigases and moved its corporate headquarters from Pennsylvania to Greenwood Village, Colo.

Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable, a unit of Time Warner Inc., have since bought Adelphia's cable assets.

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