Dying Adelphia founder, John Rigas, to be freed from prison

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge on Friday ordered the release from prison of John Rigas, the Adelphia Communications Corp founder convicted over a fraud that led to the cable TV company’s collapse, because he is dying of cancer.

Former Adelphia Communications Corp. Chief Executive John Rigas (C) arrives at Federal Court with his lawyers, in New York February 23, 2004, for jury selection. REUTERS/Chip East

Rigas, 91, has been serving a 12-year prison term, but U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood in Manhattan reduced his sentence to time served.

Federal prosecutors had recommended that Rigas be freed after he was diagnosed with terminal Stage IV bladder cancer with metastases to the lungs. They said his life expectancy is six months or less, and that he was likely to die before being eligible for release in January 2018.

Once freed, Rigas is expected to spend his remaining months with a son in Coudersport, Pennsylvania. Federal probation officers also recommended the early release.

Lawrence McMichael, Rigas’ lawyer, said his client could be released in the next few days.

Rigas and another son, Timothy Rigas, Adelphia’s former chief financial officer, were found guilty in 2004 of conspiring to conceal Adelphia’s debt and loot corporate funds and assets.

Adelphia had been the fifth-largest U.S. cable TV operator before its 2002 collapse. It became one of the biggest corporate fraud prosecutions in recent years, along with Enron and WorldCom.

Rigas was originally sentenced to 15 years in prison, but his term was reduced after a federal appeals court threw out part of the government’s case.

His lawyers in December sought Rigas’ early release after his condition was diagnosed as terminal.

But Wood ruled at the time that while “extraordinary circumstances exist,” Rigas had not demonstrated that his legal challenge raised “substantial claims.”

The case is U.S. v. Rigas, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 02-cr-01236.

Reporting by Nate Raymond and Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Chris Reese and Leslie Adler