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Adelphia’s Rigas asks for release from prison

Adelphia Communications Corp. founder and former Buffalo Sabres owner John J. Rigas, who is serving a 12-year prison term for looting the cable company and lying about its finances, has asked a federal judge to release him early from prison, saying he’s dying of cancer.

Rigas, 91, said that when U.S. District Judge Leonard B. Sand sentenced him in 2007, he said Rigas could seek early release from prison if he is found to be terminally ill and has less than three months to live. Rigas was diagnosed with bladder cancer prior to his conviction.

Rigas and his son Timothy, Adelphia’s former chief financial officer, were convicted in 2004 after disclosure of off-the-books debt that sent the cable giant spiraling into bankruptcy.

The elder Rigas has already served eight years, and keeping him locked up would be a “Pyrrhic (and posthumous) victory” for the government, Lawrence G. McMichael, a lawyer for Rigas, said in a court filing.

Rigas, who is at the minimum-security Canaan Prison Camp, 20 miles east of Scranton, Pa., has from one to six months to live, after prison doctors determined his that bladder cancer has spread to a lung and a kidney, according to his lawyer. Rigas was hospitalized Dec. 4.

U.S. District Judge Kimba M. Wood on Monday ordered prosecutors to respond by next Tuesday to Rigas’ request for “sympathetic consideration.”

At the time of its collapse, Adelphia was the country’s fifth-largest cable television company, with more than 5 million customers in 31 states.

Adelphia had purchased local cable TV franchises in the 1980s and ’90s – it acquired Buffalo subscribers from Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI) in 1998 – and by 2000 the Rigases were considered possible leaders of an economic comeback for the City of Buffalo.

The city had become a second home for Adelphia, based about 110 miles away in Coudersport, Pa. The company established a national operations center here, along with a billing operation, a software-development group and local network-support workers.

Rigas acquired the Sabres in 1998 and had announced plans to build a 20- to 30-story corporate headquarters in the Webster Block next to the downtown hockey arena, where HarborCenter now stands, bringing in 1,500 to 2,000 jobs. Then-Gov. George E. Pataki promised to provide $50 million in state grants.

In a March 2001 Buffalo News survey of 800 community leaders, Rigas was rated as the region’s most powerful and most respected business leader.

When the Rigases were indicted in 2002, the National Hockey League seized control of the Sabres at the start of the season.

After failed bids by others hoping to purchase the team, it was sold to Rochester billionaire B. Thomas Golisano in 2003. Terry and Kim Pegula took over the team in 2011.

Bloomberg News contributed to this report. email: citydesk@buffnews.com