Adelphia Communications Corp. founder John Rigas, center, leaves federal court in New York in 2004 after he and his son Timothy were convicted of fraud. Rigas is expected to be released from prison for health reasons.
By Rich Lord / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Coudersport cable magnate who in a decade went from potential Pirates buyer to fraud convict will soon be released from prison to continue his struggle with cancer at home.
John J. Rigas, 91, held at the United States Penitentiary Canaan, in Waymart, was scheduled for release in early 2018.
U.S. District Judge Kimba M. Wood, of the Southern District of New York, on Friday signed on to a federal prosecutor's motion for compassionate release in light of the cancer's advance from Rigas' bladder to his lungs.
Attorney Christie Callahan Comerford, representing Rigas, said she expects his release this week.
"His condition is stable but very serious," she wrote in an email response to questions. "The family hopes to consult an advanced cancer center when he is released to discuss treatment options."
"We are extremely grateful that the government pursued compassionate release," Ms. Comerford wrote, thanking the federal prosecutors and the Bureau of Prisons for filing the release motion, and the judge for signing it promptly.
Rigas built Adelphia Cable into the nation's fifth-largest cable company, with more than 5 million subscribers. He once owned the Buffalo Sabres.
In 1995, Rigas became Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy's preferred choice to buy the then-troubled Pirates. The mayor even traveled to the Rigas' hometown in Potter County to try to salvage the deal after Major League Baseball decided that the offer didn't include enough equity to contend with the team's $60 million debt.
The collapse of the Rigas bid led to the emergence of Kevin McClatchy as the team's owner.
In 2002, federal prosecutors charged Rigas and two sons, Timothy J. Rigas and Michael J. Rigas, with conspiracy to defraud the United States, bank fraud, wire fraud and related charges. The allegations had the family hiding $2 billion in Adelphia debt and driving the company into bankruptcy, while drawing down millions for a luxury lifestyle that included such head-scratching excesses as delivery, by plane, of Christmas trees.
Rigas went to trial, where, at age 79, he was convicted on most of the counts by a jury that deliberated for eight days. It was hailed at the time as an unusual top-level white-collar prosecution.
A judge ultimately sentenced the father to 12 years in prison, son Timothy to 17 years, and later son Michael to probation. Though John and Timothy Rigas appealed and stayed out of jail for years, a judge in 2007 ordered them to begin serving their sentences.
In 2008, though, U.S. District Judge Stephen C. Robinson acknowledged the father's bladder cancer, and asked the federal Bureau of Prisons to let him serve in a facility close to his home with good medical care.
The judge then wrote to the prison system that if at some point Rigas had "a terminal condition, i.e. has a life expectancy of less than three months" he could be given early probation. That decision is finally coming into play eight years later.
Rigas' fall created financial aftershocks that lasted a decade.
A $715 million civil settlement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission covered some of the losses suffered by Adelphia investors.
In a later $12.5 billion sale, Adelphia's assets, including the 4.8 million customers it had then, were split between Comcast Corp. and Time Warner, increasing the consolidation of the cable TV industry. The firm's Western Pennsylvania customers went to Comcast in 2006.
Adelphia's 72,000-square-foot Coudersport headquarters, with granite exterior and an estimated value approaching $30 million, went up for auction. It went through several owners, before the Potter County Redevelopment Authority bought it for $2 million in 2013, and rented part of it to Zito Media, a company owned by Rigas family members.
In 2012, Pittsburgh law firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney agreed to pay $60 million to settle claims related to its role as Adelphia's primary outside legal counsel for several years.
The Rigas' have continued to seek exoneration, and as recently as 2014 were sending out subpoenas for documents they claimed would prove their innocence.
The Associated Press contributed.
Rich Lord: email@example.com or 412-263-1542. Twitter @richelord
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to
firstname.lastname@example.org and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner.