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June 13, 2005

Adelphia executives to be sentenced next week

Because I now do not have to worry about how Blakely's impact in California could affect Michael Jachson's sentencing, I have time to note another high-profile case making headlines.  As discussed by Peter Henning at the White Collar Crime Prof Blog in this post, another interesting chapter in the prosecution and sentencing of white-collar offenders will unfold next week in New York when US District Judge Leonard Sand sentences Adelphia Communications Corp. founder John Rigas and his son Timothy Rigas, who were convicted last summer of participating in a massive corporate-looting and accounting-fraud scandal.  For more background on this case and the prosecutors' request for 215 years(!) in prison for the Rigases, check of this Bloomberg News story and this Wall Street Journal article about the case and upcoming sentencing.

Peter rightly comments that a "215-year term of imprisonment is simply ludicrous," and he also faults defense counsel for seeking home confinement or a six-month prison sentence given that the "fraud at Adelphia ... caused the company to collapse while the Rigas family lined its pockets."   Peter astutely wonders "whether such extreme requests are really helpful to the clients of either side," though I am inclined to be especially critical of the prosecutors' recommendation. 

Do the prosecutors genuinely believe that 215 years is a just sentence for John Rigas, an 80-year-old man who "had triple-bypass heart surgery in 1999 and has bladder cancer"?  Even accepting the prosecutors' contention that the Adelphia fraud "stands among the most serious economic crimes ever committed," I am still troubled by the notion that prosecutors are comfortable representing that imprisonment for 215 years is a sentence "sufficient but not greater than necessary" to serve the purposes of punishment (especially since the "Rigases already have agreed to forfeit assets valued at hundreds of millions of dollars to compensate victims of the fraud").

June 13, 2005 at 08:39 PM | Permalink


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Attacking the indefensible is only barely superior to defending the indefensible. What sentence do you think is appropriate? What do you base that on? How does Rigas' bladder cancer affect your recommended sentence? How does the Rigas' restitution affect your recommended sentence?

We can have a better debate if everyone argues for a specific position, rather than simply criticize.

Posted by: Mark | Jun 14, 2005 12:24:35 PM

Mark, I think it is certainly acceptable to say, "I'm not sure what's right, but I'm VERY sure that 215 years is wrong."

In the case of John Rigas, the government's argument is obviously symbolic. He's an 80-year-old man in very poor health, so practically any nontrivial prison sentence is probably a life sentence. In light of his age and his health, I would sentence him to five years in prison. Even at five years, he's unlikely ever to see freedom again, but the severity of the charges demands hard time.

The more interesting case is Timothy Rigas. He has forfeited almost all of his assets and has no capacity to re-offend. Notwithstanding teh severity of the offense, his sentence should not be so severe as to preclude release. I would argue that 10-20 years is about the right range.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Jun 14, 2005 12:48:47 PM

Nice insights from both Mar(c)(k)s.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jun 14, 2005 9:44:00 PM

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