COUDERSPORT, PA – John James Rigas, the son of Greek immigrants who founded one of the country’s largest cable television companies to lose everything in a notorious case of corporate abuse, died on September 30, confirmed The Buffalo News (TBN), adding that “the cable mogul’s death comes more than five years after authorities granted his” compassionate release “after eight years in a federal prison camp in Canaan, Pa., anticipating that he would die soon “.
He was 96 years old.
“Before he and four other company executives were charged with fraud in 2002, Rigas was one of Buffalo’s most admired business figures,” TBN reported, noting that “he transferred several key components from her company, Adelphia Communications, from her hometown of Coudersport, PA, in Buffalo “and” bought the Buffalo Sabers hockey team. “
Rigas had also “planned to build a multi-story headquarters next to the hockey arena, where Harborcenter is now located,” TBN reported, adding that “it all fell apart in 2002 after Rigas, his sons Timothy and Michael, and two other executives were accused of using company funds for personal gain and hiding $ 2.3 billion in debt from their investors “and” he was forced to resign his position as CEO of Adelphia ”.
Born on November 14, 1924 in Wellsville, NY in an apartment above the Texas Hot Diner operated by his father, Rigas began playing tables at the age of 9, TBN reported, adding that “after being graduating in 1943 from Wellsville High School, where he earned a place in his Sports Hall of Fame as an outstanding player in football, basketball, baseball and track and field, he enlisted in the army to fight in World War II. Assigned to an armored infantry division, he fought in France.
After his service, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in management engineering from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
“Looking back on my professional career, meeting after meeting, I can see that I subconsciously ask myself, ‘What’s the problem? What do we know? What don’t we know? He told an interviewer, TBN reported. “This sequential engineering approach has become one of my business strengths. I could get to the heart of the matter much faster than many others.
When he returned home, Rigas “returned to work at Texas Hot, but quickly found an engineering job at Sylvania’s headquarters in Emporium, Pa., Commuting from Wellsville,” TBN reported, noting that ” in 1951 he borrowed $ 72,000 from his family. and friends to buy a movie theater in Coudersport, the seat of Potter County, halfway between Emporium and Wellsville. He sold tickets and made popcorn every night while still working at Sylvania. For many nights he slept in the theater on a camp bed.
Rigas “also started Adelphia in Coudersport, buying the borough’s cable franchise for $ 300 in 1952 by overdrawing its bank account,” TBN reported, adding that “in the 1980s and 1990s, Adelphia acquired many suburban cable TV systems, avoiding big cities, while taking on huge debt.
“Once he said to his secretary, ‘well, Angie, either I’m going to be a millionaire or I’m going to go bankrupt,'” TBN reported, noting that “in the end, he would do both.” .
Adelphia “has become the nation’s fifth-largest cable television provider, with 5.6 million customers in 30 states,” TBN reported, adding that “the company purchased the Buffalo cable franchise in 1998, the same year as Rigas acquired the Sabers, and soon he was seen as a leader in the city’s long-awaited economic return.
“A 2001 survey of 800 local leaders by TBN ranked him as the region’s most powerful and respected businessman,” TBN reported, noting that “his success had already transformed Coudersport.” and “in addition to providing 2,000 jobs to the rural community, he was known for his generosity.
Rigas “sent checks to the needy” and “saw cancer patients for treatment at clinics in Cleveland and Mayo on his company planes,” while “he and his workers plowed snow and mowed lawns for them. the elderly, “TBN reported, adding that” the Rigases supported the Cole Memorial Hospital, renovated the downtown buildings and restored the city’s Lady of Justice statue. Every year in December, it took the Buffalo or Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in town for a holiday concert.
“In his younger years at Coudersport, he was a baseball coach, president of the Chamber of Commerce and active in the Rotary Club,” TBN reported, noting that “he later served on the board of directors of the Université Saint-Bonaventure, who named a theater to its Quick Center for the Arts for his family, and sent his sons to Ivy League colleges, all three returning to Coudersport to work for Adelphia and encourage its expansion.
Rigas “often told people that he was just a man from a small town who liked to help people … but Rigas also lived wildly, with the help of funds from Adelphia,” reported TBN, adding that “prosecutors said he was taking cash advances of $ 1 million per month.”
Rigas “built a 10,000-acre resort outside of town, Wending Creek Farm, for him and his family and turned it into a farm showcase,” TBN reported, noting that “a golf course $ 20 million was being installed on the farm when he was charged. “
He also “traveled in a Gulfstream jet which he bought from King Hussein of Jordan” and “in 1994 he offered $ 85 million to buy the Pittsburgh Pirates, but was turned down because the offer involved too much. debt, ”TBN reported.
“When he and his sons were arrested from their Manhattan apartment in 2002, they were shown handcuffed in front of a morning phalanx of reporters and photographers – even prompting President George W. Bush to intervene,” TBN reported.
“This government will investigate, arrest and prosecute corporate executives who break the law, and the Justice Department took action today,” Bush said of Rigas’s arrest, TBN reported. “Today was a day of action and a day of accomplishment in Washington, DC.”
“Federal prosecutors presented a version of Rigas away from the benevolent grandfather universally beloved by his community,” TBN reported, noting that “they accused him and others of concocting a fraud that cost taxpayers $ 60 billion, while plundering Adelphia of at least $ 1 billion, “and” they said the Rigase were hiding Adelphia’s real debt from investors in order to support the share price, hiding $ 2.3 billion in co-signed “while” loans they also claimed the family was using the money for luxuries and buying Adelphia shares, with the company responsible for repaying the loans.
“Although Coudersport rose and then fell with Adelphia’s fortunes, the town appeared in 2016 to forgive the disgrace of its favorite son,” TBN reported, adding that “many residents, some of whom lost their savings by investing in Adelphia, never forgave him, others continued their admiration.
“The citizens of Coudersport started a petition asking the US Bureau of Prisons to release a sick Rigas who had been diagnosed with bladder cancer,” TBN reported, noting that “when he was released Coudersport celebrated” and “dozens of residents invaded the town square in the cold of a February night as he was driven from prison to his adopted hometown.
“His old friends and staff held welcome signs outside the historic Potter County Courthouse and erupted into thunderous cheers” and “stormed into his car shouting” God bless you John “and” Welcome to the house, Mr. Rigas “and” We love you, “TBN reported, adding that” a frail Rigas seemed overwhelmed by his welcome, waved, blew kisses and displayed a V sign of victory. “
“I can’t believe all of these people came just for me, God bless you all,” he said at the time, TBN reported.
Over the following years, Rigas “lived quietly on the family farm, running the remnants of the family business and working on the case of his son, Tim, who was released by prison authorities in 2019,” TBN reported, adding that in a 2018 TBN interview, “He credited immunotherapy sessions every three weeks – which he would not have received in prison – for prolonging his life.” And luck too.
“I am blessed, I really am,” he said at the time, TBN reported.
His wife of 61 years, former Doris Nielsen, died in 2014.
Survivors include two other sons, Michael and James; one daughter, Ellen; and six grandchildren.
A private funeral service is planned, TBN reported.