Chip East  /  Reuters
Adelphia Communications Corp. founder John Rigas, center, and his lawyers arrive to federal court in New York Monday.
updated 2/23/2004 3:00:33 PM ET 2004-02-23T20:00:33

With a smile and a nod to potential jurors, Adelphia Communications Corp. founder John Rigas went on trial Monday to face charges that he and his two sons looted the nation’s fifth-largest cable company, cheating investors of billions of dollars.

Rigas turned around to face a group of several dozen prospective jurors as he was introduced to them by his lawyer, Peter Fleming Jr.

U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand told the group he would question them individually about answers they had given on questionnaires they filled out earlier this month. Opening statements were not expected to begin before next week.

Rigas and his sons, Michael and Timothy Rigas, both former company executives, are accused of turning the cable company into their “personal piggy bank.” Prosecutors say the men cheated investors by driving the company into bankruptcy as they stole hundreds of millions of dollars from the cable giant from 1999 to 2002.

The Rigases and another former company executive, Michael Mulcahey, have pleaded innocent to charges of conspiracy, securities fraud and bank fraud.

The trial takes place in Manhattan, home of the nation’s financial markets and where many of the alleged false financial reports were filed with securities regulators.

The Greenwood Village, Colo., company once had 5.7 million cable subscribers in more than 30 states. The government alleges the defendants boosted profits by hiding more than $2 billion in debts from investors.

To underscore the harm to investors nationwide, prosecutors have indicated that the trial’s first two witnesses will be company shareholders who lost heavily while the Rigas family lived in splendor, even building a golf course with company money.

In all, some 600 potential jurors filled out the 25-page questionnaire, which asked whether they’d been victims of fraud and whether they had any connection to businesses involving the Rigas family. The businesses include banks, law firms, the National Hockey League and the Buffalo Sabres, which John Rigas owned until the NHL took control of the team.

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