Judge reduces sentences for cable father and son

June 26, 2008 5:35:37 AM PDT
A judge has reduced the prison terms for a father and son who built Adelphia Communications into a cable television powerhouse before they were convicted of ruining it by using it as a piggy bank to pay for luxuries including a jet and 100 pairs of slippers.The 15-year sentence of 82-year-old Adelphia founder John Rigas was reduced to 12 years and the 20-year sentence of his son Timothy Rigas was reduced to 17 years by U.S. District Judge Leonard B.

Sand in Manhattan. The Rigases, convicted of charges including conspiracy, bank fraud and securities fraud, began serving their sentences last August.

In reducing the sentences in a written opinion that was filed Wednesday, the judge wrote that "a minimal adjustment is appropriate" though he also noted the seriousness of the crimes.

The judge revisited his June 2005 sentencing decisions after the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out one of two bank fraud counts that had been used to convict the Rigases.

He noted that the bank fraud count was a relatively minor charge and warranted a small reduction in sentence rather than the heftier one that the defense argued was called for.

"Indeed we find that the sentence previously imposed was fully justified under the circumstances," he said.

He said a defense argument that the prosecution and verdict reflected a hysteria after energy trading giant Enron collapsed in a major corporate scandal in 2001 ignored the fact that the verdict came from "a conscientious jury" after four months of trial.

"The strength of the government's case, not any overreaction to events elsewhere, explain the guilty verdicts and this court's prior sentences," he said.

Adelphia collapsed into bankruptcy in 2002 after announcing its 2001 results with a press release including a footnote saying the company had more than $2 billion in liabilities it had not previously reported. At the time, it was the country's fifth-largest cable TV company.

During trial, the government said John Rigas, who started the company with a $300 investment, used the company's financial ledger like a personal piggy bank, paying for expenses as small as massages and withdrawing $100,000 from the company whenever he wished.

The family was accused of buying a Gulfstream III jet from the king of Jordan and using it as a taxi service for trips to New York City and to see the Buffalo Sabres hockey team, which the family had owned.

Prosecutors said the family spent lavishly on itself, ordering 100 pairs of slippers for Timothy Rigas and using more than $3 million to produce a film by John Rigas' daughter.

The Rigas family said through a lawyer Wednesday that the judge's ruling "reflects a disappointing and distorted view of what occurred at Adelphia."

It blamed the company's collapse on the failure of legal and financial professionals to stand behind the advice they had given Adelphia, allowing the company to get hit with "widespread panic unfolding in a post-Enron environment of intense fear and suspicion."

They promised more appeals.

"These sentences might be appropriate for murderers, rapists or terrorists but not for businessmen who thought they were entering into legitimate business transactions in good faith reliance on seasoned professionals," said Michael Rigas, another son of John Rigas.