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John Rigas, the founder of cable giant Adelphia, was sentenced to 15 years in prison Monday for his role in the fraud that pushed the company into bankruptcy. His son, Timothy, received 20 years. “Were it not for age and health, I would impose a sentence far greater,” Southern District of New York Judge Leonard Sand told the 80-year-old John Rigas who is suffering from bladder cancer. Before a packed courtroom in which spectators spilled into the jury box, the judge next sentenced Timothy Rigas, 49, saying “I can’t think of anything more painful than a father to sit and see his son sentenced.” However, the judge declined to levy the maximum term permitted under the federal sentencing guidelines. In doing so, he rejected a request by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Richard Owens, chief of the fraud unit, and Christopher Clark, who called the Rigases’ offense among the largest corporate frauds in U.S. history. Sand said that the sentence that the government sought, which could have reached more than 100 years, would have been excessive. Attorneys for both men urged the judge to ignore the sentencing guidelines and to apply a less stringent prison term. Congress established the guidelines in the 1980s to provide sentencing ranges and a host of aggravating or mitigating factors for judges to consider. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the guidelines are not mandatory but may be taken into consideration. Sand mostly rejected defense arguments for mitigation. “The Rigases are not looters,” John Rigas’ lawyer, Peter Fleming Jr. of Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt and Mosle, said in a soft-spoken delivery. Comparing their actions with other corporate defendants, Fleming said that the Rigases had acted under the guidance and approval of their board of directors, accountants and lawyers, namely the law firm of Buchanan Ingersoll. Sand was unpersuaded. “This is a tragedy,” he responded, “[where] there are no heroes.” Silence by those who could have stopped the fraud at an earlier stage did not exonerate his client, Sand said. “One could reasonably conclude that there was a conscious effort to obfuscate.” Sand also showed skepticism about claims that the Rigases’ generosity toward Coudersport, Pa., the rural, impoverished community where Adelphia had its headquarters, should be taken into consideration. “To be a great philanthropist with other people’s money is not very persuasive,” Sand told Fleming. Paul Grand of Morvillo, Abramowitz, Grand, Iason, & Silberberg, who represented Timothy Rigas, sometimes jousted with the judge in trying to distinguish the fraud committed by the Rigases from Ponzi schemes and other monetary frauds in which felons received large sentences. “There are things that distinguish this case from out-and-out theft,” Grand insisted on several occasions. Sand rejected this argument as well and instructed the Rigases’ lawyers not to retry the case. “As I said … the man I have to sentence is the man reflected by the evidence,” Sand reiterated, reminding defense lawyers that the Rigases pleas of innocence were inapposite for the sentencing hearing. Adelphia, the nation’s sixth largest cable operator founded by John Rigas in 1952, filed for bankruptcy in June 2002 after it revealed that the company was a guarantor for more than $2 billion in loans made to the Rigas family. It has since moved to Colorado. After a four-month trial before Sand, a jury found John and Timothy Rigas guilty of 18 counts of bank fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud and related charges last July. Timothy’s younger brother Michael, who was represented by Andrew Levander of Swidler Berlin Shereff Friedman (Levander has since moved to Dechert) was found not guilty of conspiracy and wire fraud. The jury could not decide on other charges against Michael Rigas, and the government has vowed to retry him. Michael Rigas sat behind the defendants Monday, often hunching over during the three-hour hearing. Former Adelphia treasurer Michael Mulcahey, who was represented by Buffalo, N.Y., attorney Mark Mahoney of Harrington & Mahoney, was acquitted of all charges. Sentencing was delayed for months as the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Department of Justice, the Rigases and Adelphia negotiated a four-way settlement in which the Rigases would release most of their cable holdings to Adelphia and the company would establish a restitution fund of $715 million for investors. With that settlement finalized, Sand proceeded with sentencing. The Rigases are scheduled to surrender to the U.S. Marshals’ Office on Sept. 9.

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