Saturday, July 10, 2004

Michael Rigas' fraud trial ends with deadlocked jury

By Erin McClam
The Associated Press

NEW YORK - The fraud case against former Adelphia Communications Corp. operations chief Michael Rigas ended in a mistrial Friday, with the jury deadlocked on 17 counts.

Jurors were dismissed after telling a federal judge they could not reach a consensus on 15 counts of securities fraud and two counts of bank fraud. Rigas was acquitted of conspiracy and wire fraud charges a day earlier.

"There's no one who questions for a moment that you tried," U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand told the jury. "Of course we're all disappointed that you have not been able to reach a unanimous verdict as to Michael Rigas."

The mistrial came a day after Rigas' father, 79-year-old Adelphia founder John Rigas, and his brother, former chief financial officer Timothy Rigas, were convicted of conspiracy, bank fraud and securities fraud.

A fourth defendant, Michael Mulcahey, the cable company's former assistant treasurer, was acquitted of all charges Thursday.

Sand said a retrial for Michael Rigas could happen as early as fall. U.S. Attorney David Kelley said outside court that prosecutors would "adhere to the court's schedule" - an apparent indication the government plans to retry the case.

Michael Rigas did not address reporters as he left the Manhattan courthouse. His lawyer, Andrew Levander, said: "It's a very good result for us. Unfortunately, the government may retry the case."

Adelphia, then based in tiny Coudersport, Pa., collapsed into bankruptcy in 2002 after the company disclosed $2.3 billion in off-balance-sheet debt. It now operates under bankruptcy protection in Greenwood Village, Colo.

At the trial, Michael Rigas' lawyer tried to portray him as distant from the financial decisions of the company and without much of a taste for personal luxury.

The description stood in contrast to testimony about John Rigas, who was described by one witness as so willing to take cash from the company that Timothy Rigas had to limit his withdrawals to $1 million per month.

Most jurors left the courthouse together and did not take questions from reporters.

Elizabeth Carballo, who sat for months as a juror and was taken off the case when she broke her ankle around the time of closing arguments, watched from the audience as the jury was dismissed.

She said she was not certain whether she would have convicted the four defendants. Asked whether she felt sorry for the Rigases, she said: "I'm a human person. I feel bad when things happen to people."

The panel had been sitting for more than four months. The trial included a blizzard of paper evidence, including documents reflecting complex loan arrangements and cable-subscriber statistics.

The judge discharged jurors after a lengthy speech in which he thanked them for sitting patiently and attentively through the trial.

"This is not a simple case of, 'Did A hit B?' or 'Who was responsible for the automobile accident?' " Sand said. "It involved many issues and concepts that you don't encounter in your daily life."

The judge smiled and added, "Now, you're going to miss us, right?"

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