New York -- Opening arguments in the federal fraud trial of four former Adelphia Communications Corp. executives began here Monday, with the government trying hard to paint a picture of widespread greed by the MSO’s founding Rigas family.
Former Adelphia chairman John Rigas, his sons -- former chief financial officer Timothy and former executive vice president of operations Michael -- and former VP and assistant treasurer Michael Mulcahey face 24 counts of fraud and conspiracy. All four men have pleaded innocent.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Owens tried to make the complicated case simple for jurors.
"This is a case about lies and greed, about huge financial fraud and about losses of billions of dollars to investors," Owens said.
Owens said the Rigases used Adelphia as their private piggy bank, accusing John Rigas of stealing $40 million from the company between 1998-2002. He added that John Rigas routinely took money from Adelphia for his personal expenses, including such minor expenditures as his membership in the Columbia House record club and various "Book of the Month" clubs.
Tim Rigas, Owens said, was no different, buying condominiums in Colorado with company money and using the company jet to go on golf trips and to impress an actress -- he allegedly dispatched the Gulfstream III to the Caribbean to pick up former La Femme Nikita star Peta Wilson.
John Rigas’ lawyer, Peter Fleming, denounced the charges against his client, saying that the $40 million loan was part of an estate plan for the family after Rigas died. Mortality was definitely on John Rigas’ mind at the time -- Fleming said John Rigas had triple-bypass surgery in March 1999 and was diagnosed with systemic cancer of the bladder three months later.
"After hearing all of the evidence, does it make any sense that John Rigas would enter into a criminal conspiracy, would suddenly become a crook?" Fleming asked.