Rigases' Judge Hopes Trial Starts March 1


Jury selection for the federal fraud trial of former Adelphia founder John Rigas, his two sons and former vice president and assistant treasurer Michael Mulcahey is set to begin here Monday — the start of what could be a long and contentious proceeding.

Rigas, his two sons — former Adelphia chief financial officer Timothy Rigas and former executive vice president of operations Michael Rigas — and Mulcahey were indicted on 24 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud and conspiracy in September.

All four men have pleaded innocent.

Jury selection could take as long as one week. In a pretrial hearing last Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Sand said he hoped the trial could begin by March 1.

No one knows how long the trial will run, but the consensus among people familiar with the case is that it will last at least two months.

At the Rigases' arraignment last October, the U.S. Attorney said it would take the prosecution at least eight weeks to present its case.

The prosecution's star witness is expected to be former Adelphia vice president of finance Jim Brown, who pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud in November 2002, supposedly in exchange for his testimony.

Brown's testimony could be particularly damaging to the Rigases, in that he was a close confidant of Tim Rigas and according to prosecutors sat in on meetings where he and Tim Rigas fabricated cash flow and revenue numbers before releasing quarterly results to Wall Street.

"First of all, it's a paper case and they've got the paper," said Stephen Ryan, a partner in the Washington, D.C. law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips and a former assistant U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C. "And now you have the guy [Brown] who can tell you if they snickered at the table."

Just who else would be called to the witness stand remains a mystery. Although all attorneys in the case are required to submit witness lists to the court, they are rarely made public.

It is expected that the defense will attempt to focus on John Rigas's hometown-boy-made-good persona, while prosecutors are likely to hammer home evidence of extreme corporate greed on behalf of the family.

According to the indictment, the Rigases are accused of looting Adelphia for their own personal use and using Adelphia to guarantee billions of dollars in loans the family used to buy company stock.

"The centerpiece of any of these cases is painting these people with the brush Marie Antoinette was painted with," Ryan said. "You've got to indicate the personal benefit, the personal greed, the failure to act like the corporation was the corporation and the people were the people."

Ryan called that stance particularly important because John Rigas could be a sympathetic defendant to some jurors.

"There are some, how should we say, attractive aspects of the father [John Rigas] creating a business out of nothing and being a small-town guy," Ryan added. "But they [prosecutors] have to deconstruct the family mythology in that way in the courtroom."

Ryan referred to a cover story from The New York Times Magazine on the Rigases, published on Feb. 1, that he believed telegraphed how the defense would present its case.

Although the article laid out in detail how the weight of the Rigases' actions led to the collapse of Adelphia — it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June 2002 — John Rigas was portrayed as a sometimes-confused man who was not fully aware of the charges against him.

The article was harder on Tim Rigas who, as chief financial officer, allegedly engineered many of the loan vehicles that led to Adelphia's downfall.

"I saw The New York Times piece as a very generous way of portraying the activities," Ryan said. "What happened here is, on a dollar scale, an enormously damaging case. It's not Enron, though.

"The fraud in this case was at the expense of the shareholders of this particular company. Therefore the case is a more garden-variety fraud case than it is a case like Enron, of national importance to the economy."

John Rigas' attorney, Peter Fleming, would not comment on his strategy for the case.

"It's going to be a very complex case," Fleming said. "The key will be to make things clear."

Fleming would not comment on whether John Rigas would take the stand during the trial, adding "there's nothing to say about that," but added that the former Adelphia chairman has held up well throughout the ordeal.

"He's been strong and strong-minded in an obviously difficult situation," Fleming said.

Representing the federal government will be Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Coleman, who has had some experience in white-collar crime cases. Coleman was the lead prosecutor in the feds case against stock manipulator Joseph Pignatiello, who was sentenced to 5 years and 11 months in February 2000.

On the defense side, John Rigas is represented by Fleming, head of the litigation department at the New York law firm Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP. Fleming has tried and won some high-profile cases.

In 1974 he represented former U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell and former Secretary of Commerce Maurice Stans on charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and perjury in connection with an investigation of fugitive financier Robert Vesco.

Mitchell and Stans were acquitted.

Later, Fleming represented boxing promoter Don King on charges of defrauding insurer Lloyd's of London concerning a canceled title fight between boxers Julio Cesar Chavez and Harold Brazier.

That case ended in 1998 with King's acquittal after a three-month trial.

The rest of the defense team doesn't have as impressive resumes, but have some strong connections.

Each defense lawyer served in the U.S. Attorney's office — including Fleming, who served under former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.

Lead counsel for Tim Rigas is Jeremy Temkin, a partner in the Manhattan law firm Morvillo, Abramowitz, Grand, Iason & Silberberg (Morvillo name partner Robert Morvillo is currently representing Martha Stewart in her continuing federal trial).

Temkin served as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1993 to 1999.

Steven Cohen, lead counsel for Mulcahey, is another former Assistant U.S. Attorney, serving in the Manhattan office from 1991 to 1998.

Michael Rigas's lawyer is Kevin O'Brien, a partner in Swidler, Berlin, Sherreff & Friedman. He has extensive experience in white-collar crime litigation and also served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern district of New York.