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6/3/2004

Adelphia jurors hear of excess

By Tom Hays
The Associated Press

NEW YORK — In the white-collar case involving Adelphia Communications Corp., nothing matched the infamous $2 million Roman-themed birthday party thrown by an indicted executive with Tyco International Ltd.

But there was a $6,000 Christmas tree. And eggs delivered by a company jet. And an executive who flew a B-list television star on a corporate jet to a hockey game.

Jurors at the long-running but largely overlooked securities fraud trial of Adelphia founder John Rigas and his two sons have been introduced to a more down-home brand of alleged corporate excess.

The government rested its case against the Rigas family Tuesday after 10 weeks of testimony about an alleged scheme to hide $2 billion in debts from investors of Adelphia, a Greenwood Village-based company with 5.3 million cable subscribers.

Prosecutors allege Rigas, 79, and sons Michael and Timothy — bachelors who live with their parents on the family estate in Coudersport, Pa. — reduced the company to their “private piggy bank.” The defendants claim that, at worst, they were guilty of lapses in judgment.

John Rigas, a military veteran and former movie theater owner, struck it rich by investing in the cable industry in its infancy. A short man with silver hair and a quick smile, he has projected the image of a protective — if not bewildered — patriarch.

“I wish I could do something as a parent,” Rigas told reporters in February at the start of the trial in federal court in Manhattan.

The government’s case has relied largely on dry testimony about an alleged conspiracy by Rigas and his sons, both former Adelphia executives, to manipulate stock prices and line their pockets by distorting financial data. But a handful of witnesses have broken the monotony by offering a glimpse of lifestyles of the rich and eccentric.

Golf pro Lisa Lynn Scally testified that Timothy Rigas, 47, hired her to help clients with their swings. She detailed a $7,000 junket to the famed Pebble Beach course in California, saying she was asked to take her brother along to preserve a reservation for four.

“Once you have a tee time, if you don’t use it, you lose it,” she explained.

Also taking the stand was George Cretekos, who managed a private fleet of jets that made 1,000 flights a year. The trips included deliveries of eggs, paper towels and toilet paper to John Rigas’ daughter, Ellen, he said.

“Were you aware of any business purpose for these egg deliveries to New York?” asked prosecutor Christopher Clark.

“No, I was not,” Cretekos said.

About $6,000 was spent on flight time devoted to delivery of two Christmas trees from Pennsylvania to the daughter’s New York home in 2000. The second tree was flown in after her husband “objected to the (first) tree because it was too short,” Cretekos said.

Prominent on the list of frequent fliers was Peta Wilson, sultry star of cable’s “La Femme Nikita.” She told jurors that Timothy Rigas sent a jet to take her home from the Caribbean so she could star in an opening ceremony at a hockey game of the Rigas-owned Buffalo Sabres.

The actress also was treated to trips to Los Angeles and Jamaica. Asked if she was ever required to pay, she said, “I think I may have tipped the pilots.”

Another government witness testified that the family shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars in company money on antiques, golf memberships and mortgage payments.

Other expenses allegedly included $228 for a wholesale order of 100 pairs of bedroom slippers for Timothy Rigas. His father spent $3,000 on a beauty consultation and $22 for a compact disc, “Hit Parade 1942,” records show.

The witnesses said John Rigas’ demands for cash advances were so frequent that Timothy Rigas intervened and set a limit: $1 million a month.