- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — With a smile and a nod to potential jurors yesterday, Adelphia Communications Corp. founder John Rigas began a trial that will decide whether he and his two sons looted the nation’s fifth-largest cable company, cheating investors of billions of dollars.

Mr. Rigas turned to face a group of several dozen prospective jurors as he was introduced to them by his attorney, Peter Fleming Jr.

U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand told the group he would question them individually about answers they had given on questionnaires filled out earlier this month. Opening statements were not expected to begin before next week.

Mr. Rigas and his sons, Michael and Timothy Rigas, both former company executives, are accused by prosecutors of turning the cable company into their “personal piggy bank.”

The Rigases and another former company executive, Michael Mulcahey, have pleaded innocent to charges of conspiracy, securities fraud and bank fraud.

The trial takes place in Manhattan, the home of the nation’s financial markets and where many of the purportedly false financial reports were filed with securities regulators.

Prosecutors say the men cheated investors by driving the company into bankruptcy as they stole hundreds of millions of dollars from the cable giant from 1999 to 2002.

The Greenwood Village, Colo.-based company once had 5.7 million cable subscribers in more than 30 states.

The government charges that the defendants boosted profits by hiding more than $2 billion in debt from investors.

To underscore the harm to investors nationwide, prosecutors have indicated that the trial’s first two witnesses will be company shareholders who lost heavily while the Rigas family lived in splendor, even building a golf course with company money.

Lawyers and the judge this week were expected to question jurors from a pool of 600 people who filled out questionnaires.

The 25-page questionnaire asked potential jurors whether they had been victims of fraud and ever had any connection to businesses involving the Rigas family.

The business entities included banks, law firms, the National Hockey League and the Buffalo Sabres, which John Rigas owned until the NHL took control of the team.

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