After nearly four months of testimony and argument, a federal jury Monday will begin deciding whether Adelphia Communications Corp. founder John J. Rigas and two sons deceived shareholders while looting the company or have been unfairly made the scapegoats for the firm's financial woes.
John Rigas, his sons Timothy and Michael, and a fourth executive, former assistant treasurer Michael C. Mulcahey, are charged with conspiracy and wire, bank and securities fraud.
Prosecutors allege that the family siphoned off $100 million to fund personal extravagances, hid $2.3 billion in debt and systematically deceived investors about Adelphia's subscriber growth and its bottom line. Adelphia, the nation's fifth-largest cable company, declared bankruptcy in June 2002 after revealing that the firm had guaranteed billions of dollars in loans to the Rigas family.
"The Rigases used Adelphia like a piggy bank," Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard D. Owens said Thursday, as he made the government's final arguments. "It's like the bank's president overdrawing his account every day of the week as much as he wants with the bank's money. . . . That's fraud pure and simple."
Since March 1, prosecutors have introduced nearly a thousand documents and dozens of charts to bolster their case that the Rigases issued themselves $1.6 billion in stock for which they never paid and charged the company, then based in the Rigases' hometown of Coudersport, Pa., for a masseuse, 100 pairs of bedroom slippers and wide range of other personal expenses. The government also charges that the executives made false filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission that made it appear that Adelphia had more revenue and subscribers than it really did.
When it was their turn, the four defense teams picked away at the credibility of key government witnesses, catching former Adelphia director Dennis P. Coyle in a serious misstatement, and arguing that testimony from former Adelphia executives James R. Brown and Karen Chrosniak was tainted by the desire to avoid serious punishment for their own misdeeds.
Over the past week, lawyers for the four defendants also made individual pitches on behalf of their clients.
* John Rigas's attorney Peter Fleming Jr. argued that his 79-year-old client was old, ill and "basically in the dark" about the doings at the company he founded and took public in 1986. Prosecutors allege he took a million dollars a month for personal expenses and enjoyed perks such as a masseuse and 17 cars.
* Timothy J. Rigas, 47, Adelphia's former chief financial officer, believed his aggressive accounting methods were legal, said his attorney, Paul R. Grand, who compared the government's case to the Salem witch trials. Prosecutors say Timothy Rigas orchestrated accounting fraud, billed the company for his golf trips and used the company plane to ferry around a television actress, Peta Wilson of the show "La Femme Nikita."
* Michael J. Rigas, 50, Adelphia's former operations chief, was "clueless" about finances, had little contact with the accounting department and often reimbursed the company for personal expenses, said his attorney Andrew J. Levander. Prosecutors showed the jury several allegedly false SEC filings signed by Michael Rigas.
* Mulcahey, the only non-family defendant, had no motive to commit fraud to help the Rigas family, and the entire case is based on "Rigas-cide," a plot by other Adelphia employees to blame all the cable firm's troubles on the family, said his lawyer Mark J. Mahoney. Prosecutors have nicknamed Mulcahey "Okay to Pay" for having approved many of the questionable expenses.
None of the Rigas defendants testified in his own defense, but Mulcahey spent seven days on the stand defending his work and saying he believed the company acted properly. However, Mulcahey said under cross-examination that he answered to the founding family rather than other shareholders when keeping track of the company's accounting.
On Friday, Judge Leonard B. Sand finished reading the jury 108 pages of instruction on the law that will govern the case, but he decided not to send the jury out to deliberate until Monday. That way, the remaining three alternates will still be available to step in if a juror has to bow out over the weekend. One juror already has been dismissed after breaking her ankle, and another has plans to leave town July 3.
Deliberations are expected to be relatively lengthy. Not only must the panel consider 23 separate charges and four defendants, but they also have been given a special verdict form that calls for them to explain their reasons for certain choices. Such forms occasionally are used in complex cases to help to the jury through the deliberation process.