Rigases Petition Supreme Court to Overturn Fraud Convictions

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Stymied by a court of appeals in their quest to overturn their fraud convictions in May, former Adelphia executives John and Tim Rigas filed a petition Wednesday to have their case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Adelphia co-founder and former chairman John Rigas was sentenced in June 2005 to 15 years in prison and his son former chief financial officer Timothy Rigas was sentenced to 20 years in prison as a result of their 2004 convictions on 18 counts of fraud and conspiracy stemming from the massive accounting scandal at the cable company. Both men are currently serving their terms at Butner Correctional Institute, a medium-security prison in North Carolina.  

In their most recent appeal document, the Rigases claim the lower appeals court made an error in holding that Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) rules “do not govern” in a securities fraud case and that compliance with GAAP is relevant only as evidence on an issue of good faith. The Rigases contend those statements contradict rulings in several different courts that “the SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission] requires companies to prepare their public financial statements in conformity with GAAP.”

The Rigases have also claimed that the federal government’s star witness – former Adelphia vice president of finance Jim Brown – perjured himself on the stand during the Rigases criminal trial. They point to civil actions in which Brown testified that neither he nor the Rigases ever lied to auditors regarding Adelphia’s financial statements. Brown said the opposite during the Rigases criminal trial, their lawyers claim.

The Rigases also contend that the government erred by not calling expert accounting witnesses during the criminal trial.

“Plaintiffs who bring civil securities fraud cases are subject to a clear and well-established rule. If the case turns on accounting issues outside the knowledge of lay jurors, the plaintiff as the party bearing the burden of proof must call expert witnesses,” the Rigases attorneys claim.

While that is not a rule in criminal trials, the Rigases contend that it is “intolerable and illogical for the rule in criminal cases – where loss of liberty is the consequence and the burden of proof is supposedly higher – to be in conflict with the rule in civil cases, where only monetary damages are involved.”

Whether or not the Supreme Court will agree to hear the case remains to be seen. According its website, the Court has more than 7,000 cases on its docket, but only grants a plenary review with oral arguments by attorneys in about 100 cases per term. Formal written opinions are delivered in about 80 to 90 of those cases.