After four days of interviews, 20 lucky New York metropolitan area residents won the unenviable right to sit in a cramped jury box for the next three months and weigh a mountain of evidence in the federal fraud trial of four former Adelphia Communications Corp. executives.
Nine women and three men were selected last Thursday to the 12-member jury panel in the government's case against former Adelphia chairman John Rigas, two of his sons — former chief financial officer Timothy Rigas and former executive vice president of operations Michael Rigas — and former vice president and assistant treasurer Michael Mulcahey.
The Rigases and Mulcahey were charged in September on 24 counts of wire fraud, securities fraud and conspiracy. All four men have pleaded innocent. Opening arguments are scheduled for March 1 at 10 a.m. in U.S. District Court in lower Manhattan.
The trial is expected to last 12 weeks.
Throughout four days of jury selection, Timothy and Michael Rigas and Mulcahey huddled with their lawyers as Judge Sand interviewed potential jurors. John Rigas largely sat in the bench behind his attorneys and watched the proceedings.
John Rigas wouldn't comment about the jury selection process, but said that he was glad to get his day in court.
"I'm not looking forward to it," he told reporters outside the courtroom, adding he was ready to "see if we can get our life back."
"It's been two hard years with a lot of stress," John Rigas added. "This is something you would never expect in your life to occur."
John Rigas also expressed regret his sons were being prosecuted.
"I wish there was a way I could do something to help them as a parent," he said.
The federal government contends the Rigases and Mulcahey organized an elaborate scheme to defraud investors by doctoring financial statements and using company funds for their own personal business.
Adelphia hired its own independent investigator to look into the Rigas accusations in 2002. It submitted a summary of that investigator's 500-page report as part of its reorganization plan, filed with the bankruptcy court last week.
While it's unclear whether or not that report will be used in the Rigases' criminal trial, it did uncover some practices that don't appear to bode well for the family.
According to the report by law firm Covington and Burling, among the many times several Rigas family members used the company jet for personal use, Tim Rigas shuttled himself and an unnamed actress to the Bahamas, Montego Bay, Jamaica and Los Angeles and did not reimburse the company.
Perhaps more damaging: the report claims that at the end of each quarter since mid-2000, Tim Rigas and former vice president of finance James Brown (who pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud last year and is expected to testify for the government) instructed Adelphia employees to perform a series of accounting adjustments aimed at closing the gap between Adelphia's targeted cash flow and what was on the MSO's books and records.
CULLED FROM 53
The court originally sent out 600 questionnaires to potential jurors and winnowed that list to 53 potential panelists last Wednesday. On Feb. 26, U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Sand huddled in his chambers with attorneys for about an hour to pare down the list to 12 jurors and eight alternates.
It appears defense attorneys and prosecutors were bent on making sure jurors had little understanding of the complex financial issues that surround the case.
Of the 12 jurors, only one has business experience — as a store manager for personal-care products retail chain Bath & Body Works — and several have light bookkeeping experience.
Among those that qualified — but didn't make the final cut — was a woman who serves as an assistant to the president of a $1 billion hedge fund in Manhattan (it did not invest in Adelphia to her knowledge).
Lawyers for the Rigases objected after the woman said financial news channel CNBC was on in her office all day. (Jurors would be allowed to return to their places of work on Friday when court is not in session.)
Michael Rigas's attorney, Andrew Levander, said the court was "asking for trouble" if it would allow a jury member to return to her office expecting CNBC not to air a story on the Rigases.
"It's one thing to tell your juror to turn off the TV or not to read the paper," Levander said. "But we have no control over CNBC."
Several jurors recounted experience with law enforcement. One alternate juror, a 22-year-old woman who works in the childcare industry, has a sister who is currently an agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a brother who is a sergeant in the New York City Police Department. Her father is a retired FBI agent, she said.
Defense attorneys objected to her qualification for the panel, but Sand was satisfied she had never worked in law enforcement. She assured the court that her connection with law-enforcement personnel would have no effect on her ability to be fair and impartial.
The proceedings also had their moments of levity. One potential juror who didn't make the final cut — a middle-aged woman who has worked as a civilian employee for the New York City criminal court — was impressed by the trappings of the federal courthouse.
"You're building is so majestic-looking," she said. "You have rugs and everything."