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Adelphia founder sentenced to 15 years
John and Timothy Rigas are sentenced to prison nearly a year after their convictions.
June 20, 2005: 6:06 PM EDT
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John Rigas arriving at federal court in New York for his sentencing. He got 15 years.
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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - John Rigas, the founder of Adelphia Communications, was sentenced Monday to 15 years in prison nearly a year after being convicted for his role in a multibillion-dollar fraud that led to the collapse of the nation's fifth-largest cable company.

His son Timothy, the company's former CFO, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

John Rigas, who ran Adelphia for more than five decades, and Timothy were convicted last July on 18 felony counts apiece of fraud and conspiracy. Because they were each found guilty of the same charges, they were given different prison terms due to age.

John Rigas is 80 and ailing; Timothy is 49.

They were ordered to surrender to prison authorities Sept. 19.

In a lengthy address to the court before his sentencing, John Rigas asked for leniency and was nearly in tears, according to a CNN correspondent at the hearing.

Prosecutors had requested a 215-year sentence for each of the men, noting that the illegal deals the father and son were convicted of helped drive Adelphia into bankruptcy.

Lawyers for the Rigases, who are appealing their convictions, had asked for leniency. John Rigas has had heart trouble and been diagnosed with bladder cancer.

Jacob Frenkel, a former federal prosecutor, called the 15-year sentence for John Rigas "substantial" by historical standards for white-collar crimes. He noted Rigas' age and said it effectively amounted to a life sentence.

"Judges normally show greater sympathy for people of advanced years and deteriorating health," said Frenkel, now in private practice with Shulman, Rogers, Gandal, Pordy & Eckler, a Maryland law firm.

"Here the conduct was seen as so egregious that a 15-year sentence was still considered appropriate," he said.

Frenkel thinks the judge was trying to send a clear message to corporate executives.

U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Sand said at Monday's hearing that John Rigas' sentence could be altered after two years, but only if the Bureau of Prisons determines Rigas' life expectancy to be less than 3 months.

John Rigas was also fined $2,300.

The sentencing comes as prosecutors have achieved some big wins in their fight against corporate corruption.

Three days ago a New York state jury convicted former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski and CFO Mark Swartz on charges that they looted the manufacturing conglomerate of $600 million.

In March, a federal jury in New York found former WorldCom CEO and co-founder Bernard Ebbers guilty on charges related to an $11 billion accounting scandal at the telecommunications giant, now known as MCI.

WorldCom filed the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history just a month after Adelphia went bankrupt.

At a five-month trial last year, prosecutors accused the Rigases of conspiring to hide $2.3 billion in Adelphia debt, stealing $100 million, and lying to investors about the company's financial condition. They claimed that the Rigases had effectively used Adelphia as their personal piggy bank to pay for luxury condos and a golf course, and to cover personal investment losses.

John and Timothy Rigas were found guilty on 18 of the 23 counts brought against them.

Their sentencing had been delayed repeatedly in recent months, in part because of a separate, related investigation by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Rigases settled civil charges in April, agreeing to forfeit 95 percent of their assets, which include privately owned cable systems worth between $700 and $900 million, at least $570 million worth of Adelphia securities, and real estate valued at about $10 million.

Michael Rigas, another former executive and also a son of John, is awaiting a second trial after the jury acquitted him on some charges and deadlocked on other felony counts against him.

A fourth executive who was also tried last year, Michael Mulcahey, Adelphia's ex-director of internal financial reporting, was acquitted on all counts.

A second trial for Michael Rigas is due to start in October.

Adelphia, which was located for decades in Coudersport, Penn. before moving its home base to Greenwood, Colo., is in the process of selling its cable assets for $17.6 billion to Time Warner (Research) and Comcast (Research). Time Warner is the parent of CNN/Money.  Top of page

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