New York -- U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand has set a Jan. 5, 2004, trial
date for former Adelphia Communications Corp. chairman John Rigas, his sons --
former chief financial officer Timothy and former executive vice president of
operations Michael -- and former assistant treasurer Michael Mulcahey on federal
charges that they defrauded the cable company of more than $2.5 billion.
John Rigas appeared in court along with his sons and
Although he looked frail, the 78-year-old Rigas appeared relieved that the
trial was moving forward.
"Now that I know when the trial date is, I can start to put things together,"
John Rigas said. "I have a real concern about the future of the company that we
still have a big stake in."
But where that trial will
be held is still up in the air. Attorneys for the defendants have asked the
court for a change of venue from Manhattan to the U.S. District
Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in Williamsport, Pa.
That new venue would be closer to Adelphia's Coudersport, Pa.,
Defense attorneys cited convenience and possible public prejudice surrounding
the case as the reasons for the change of venue.
John Rigas' attorney, Bernard Preziosi, said New York residents are
prejudiced concerning the Rigases because they have lumped the Adelphia case in
with others "under the overall category of corporate greed."
In its 24-count indictment in September, U.S. Attorney James Comey called the
defendants' actions "one of the most elaborate and extensive corporate frauds in
United States history."
Former VP of finance James Brown was indicted with the Rigases in September,
but he cut a deal with prosecutors in November, pleading guilty to three counts
of fraud in return for his testimony against his former bosses.
The attorneys plan to hire a market-research firm to conduct a survey in both
New York and Pennsylvania to gauge public attitudes concerning the case.
Judge Sand gave the defense until March 3 to file its motion for the change
of venue, but he added that he found that the motion being "predicated on a
survey of popular opinion comes as a surprise to me and is something I find
Prosecutors had wanted to begin the trial Sept. 8, but Paul Grand, the
attorney for Timothy Rigas, argued that the volume of documentation that must be
reviewed in the case would make that impossible. Grand estimated that at least 6
million documents must be reviewed.
U.S. attorneys said it would take about six weeks for them to complete their
case. Jury selection is expected to begin Jan. 5, 2004.
Adelphia -- which has its own civil suit against the Rigases pending -- has
been making moves to right itself since filing for bankruptcy in June.
The company -- which is effectively being run by its board of directors, led
by former banker Erland Kailbourne, now Adelphia's chairman -- is in
negotiations to hire two high-profile executives to run operations.
According to sources, Adelphia is negotiating with former AT&T Broadband
CEO William Schleyer and former AT&T Broadband chief operating officer Ron
Cooper to take the same roles with Adelphia.
John Rigas praised Adelphia's attempts to hire a new CEO and COO.
"[Cooper and Schleyer] seem to be very capable people,
and they have been in the industry," he said. "That's a step forward. I'm very
supportive. I look forward to a little better chemistry between us because the
past group hasn't been too friendly."