May 22, 2008 / 9:01 PM / in 9 years

Lawyer: Rigas jail sentences must be reconsidered

5 Min Read

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A lawyer for Adelphia founder John Rigas and his son, Timothy, argued on Thursday that the court should re-evaluate their entire prison sentences since an appeals court overturned part of their convictions last year.

The pair, convicted by a jury in 2004 of concealing loans and stealing millions from the cable operator, are currently serving prison terms of 15 years and 20 years, respectively.

In a hearing in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on Thursday, Lawrence McMichael, an attorney representing the Rigases, argued with Judge Leonard Sand about whether the appeals court reversal of one of the lesser counts of conviction required the court to redo sentencing.

"When a count of conviction is reversed, you start over," McMichael said, saying the court could now consider new rules about sentencing and new evidence that has come to light following the conclusion of the original criminal trial.

The Rigases participated in the hearing over a video link from a North Carolina prison where they are serving their sentences, which started last year.

Sitting in a sparse room, dressed in a prison uniform, John Rigas, 83, said he did not feel well enough to testify on his behalf, and deferred to his son.

Timothy Rigas, 52, read a prepared statement, saying he was "haunted" by what occurred at Adelphia, but claiming he and his father had relied on the advice of outside professionals.

"I never once went to work thinking I was doing something improper," Timothy Rigas told the court, asking for reconsideration of the "harsh sentences."

Another of John Rigas's sons, James, who had not been charged in the case, addressed the court for the first time regarding his father and brother.

"Adelphia and the Rigases had always acted in good faith on the careful reliance of outside professionals," said James Rigas, 50, who worked at Adelphia from 1986 until 2002.

He urged the judge to consider evidence unearthed in a civil trial that was not available at the time of the original criminal proceeding and criticized the government's original case.

"Their clear purpose has been to play 'gotcha' at the Rigases expense," James Rigas said, adding that the mood at the time was poisoned by the Enron scandal that brought down accounting firm Arthur Andersen and had made those who would have spoken well of the Rigases fearful.

William Johnson, an assistant U.S. attorney, said the government disagreed that the entire sentence needed to be redone.

Judge Sand later called the Rigases' statements "very distressing."

"There's no acceptance of any responsibility for what occurred at Adelphia," Sand said. "I think the defendants are in total denial."

McMichael responded by saying the Rigases do not believe they are guilty of a crime, but rather "acknowledge a catastrophe occurred on their watch."

Judge Sand opted to issue a written opinion on the Rigases resentencing, rather than make a decision in open court.

After the Enron and WorldCom cases, Adelphia was one of the biggest corporate fraud prosecutions in recent years. The father and son, the company's former chief financial officer, were accused of looting the company to pay for personal land deals and vacation homes.

In May 2007, the U.S. appeals court in New York upheld the pair's convictions on 22 of 23 counts of conspiracy and securities and bank fraud. It reversed their conviction on one count of bank fraud, citing insufficient evidence, which led to the re-sentencing proceeding.

Sand said on Thursday that reversing that one count reduced the maximum sentence the Rigases could face to 185 years as opposed to 205 years, but that the reversal was on a lesser count of bank fraud and not the bigger conspiracy charge.

McMichael argued the rejection of that count was due to a "substantive error" and meant all counts must be re-evaluated.

The Rigases lost another appeal in March, when the Supreme Court declined to review the appeals court ruling. Also, Judge Sand had earlier declined to hear a new trial in their case.

Adelphia was the fifth-largest U.S. cable firm before its 2002 collapse. Its cable system assets have since been sold to Comcast Corp and Time Warner Inc.

Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Braden Reddall

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