John Rigas, former owner of the Sabers and doomed founder of Adelphia, dies at 96

BUFFALO, NY (WIVB) – Adelphia Communications founder and former Buffalo Sabers owner John Rigas died Thursday in Pennsylvania. He was 96 years old.

Rigas, a Wellsville native and military veteran, turned what was a $ 300 investment in 1952 into cable giant Adelphia Communications Corp., which had more than 2 million subscribers in 1998.

Rigas was revered locally in the 1990s as a businessman and owner of the Sabers, which qualified for the Stanley Cup Final in 1999 two years after Rigas bought the team. But Rigas’ legacy has been permanently altered by a multibillion-dollar fraud and conspiracy scandal that drove Adelphia into bankruptcy and put Rigas and her son, Timothy, in jail.

John and Timothy Rigas were convicted by a federal jury in 2004 of conspiracy, bank fraud and securities fraud. John was convicted of 18 of the 23 charges against him and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Timothy was convicted of the same charges and was later sentenced to 20 years in prison.

After serving eight years, John Rigas was granted a “compassionate release” in 2016 when it appeared he had little time left as the cancer spread from his bladder to his lungs and kidneys. But Rigas, then 91, recovered and lived the rest of his life in Coudersport, Pa., Where he remained beloved.

Fickinger Funeral Home in Coudersport said utilities are not scheduled at this time.

Timothy was released in 2019. John Rigas said at the time that he and his son were still appealing their convictions.

When Rigas was first arrested in 2002, the NHL took control of the Sabers. Tom Golisano bought the team in 2003 and owned it until sale to current owner Terry Pegula in 2011. Other Adelphia assets such as Empire Sports Network went out of business in subsequent years. .

The two Rigases could have been sentenced to life imprisonment, the Associated Press reported in 2005. The sentences were among the toughest handed down by a U.S. court since the fall of Enron in 2001 that sparked a wave of corporate scandals that rocked the markets and cost investors billions of dollars.

“It’s a tragedy that lacks heroes,” US District Judge Leonard Sand said on sentencing.

A Buffalo News box shows the Rigas family making headlines on July 25, 2002 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Harry Scull Jr./Getty Images)

Prosecutors had accused the Rigases of using complicated cash management systems to distribute money among various family entities and as cover to steal around $ 100 million for themselves.

They were accused of spending money on a long list of personal luxuries. Prosecutors said John Rigas ordered two New York Christmas trees for his daughter for $ 6,000, ordered up to 17 company cars and asked the company to buy 3,600 acres of woodland – for $ 26 million – to preserve the sight outside his Pennsylvania. residence.

Worse yet for investors, the company went bankrupt in 2002 after it disclosed $ 2.3 billion of off-balance sheet debt that prosecutors said had been deliberately hidden by the Rigases.

“Our intentions were good. The results weren’t, ”Timothy Rigas told the judge before sentencing.

Judge Sand refused to force the two men to pay restitution, noting that the family has already agreed to forgo more than $ 1.5 billion to pay regulatory fees.

At the most dramatic moment of a hearing that lasted nearly three hours, John Rigas slowly rose from his chair just before being sentenced, walked to a desk, and addressed the judge, speaking slowly and gently.

“In my heart and in my conscience, I will go to my grave truly believing that I have done nothing but try to improve the conditions of my employees,” he said.

He has said on several occasions that he has led a blessed life and even thanked the members of the military “who fought for America and gave their lives because they believed in America and in this. that it represented “.

“If I did something wrong, I apologize,” he said.

Right after his conviction, the elder of Rigas, leaning forward in his seat, put his right hand over his mouth and dabbed his eyes and nose with a tissue.

The judge, while expressing concern for Rigas’ age and poor health, repeatedly referred to investors who had trusted the Rigas family, many of whom lost their retirement security.

At one point Rigas attorney Peter Fleming tried to convince Sand that his client deeply believed in philanthropy, loved the town of Coudersport and was “obviously scared to death of prison”.

The judge interjected: “See what he did? What did he do at Coudersport, what did he do with assets and by means that were not suitably his?

“Being a great philanthropist with other people’s money is really not very convincing,” Sand said.

A second son of Rigas, Michael, the company’s former executive vice president of operations, faced a new trial after jurors stalled on charges of securities fraud and bankruptcy. bank fraud brought against him. He subsequently pleaded guilty.

Former Adelphia deputy treasurer Michael Mulcahey was tried with the Rigase but was acquitted of all charges.

This is a developing story, check back for updates. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Nick Veronica is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a digital executive producer in 2021. He previously worked at NBC Sports and The Buffalo News. You can follow Nick on Facebook and Twitter and find out more of his work here.

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