NEW YORK — Michael Rigas won’t be joining his father and brother behind bars — at least for the moment.
On Friday, a deadlocked jury told Judge Leonard Sand it could not decide whether to convict the former Adelphia chief operating officer on fraud charges in connection with the multibillion-dollar collapse of the company.
“You performed admirably,” the judge told the jury, which last week convicted Adelphia founder John Rigas and son Timothy of concocting a plot to deceive investors. “You are going to be discharged now with everyone’s thanks.”
Adelphia collapsed into bankruptcy in 2002 after it revealed the Rigases had borrowed more than $2.3 billion to buy company stock, burning investors and leaving an estimated $200 million in unpaid fees to programmers.
Company is being guided through bankruptcy by new management and is expected to be sold in a court-managed auction that could fetch more than $20 billion.
Judge Sand said a new trial for Michael Rigas could begin in mid-October.
But Rigas’ attorneys said they thought the odds that the government would mount a new trial were slim. “It’s hard to see that they would bring this whole apparatus back,” said Rigas attorney Kevin O’Brien. “Hopefully, we can convince the government that the public interest lies elsewhere.”
Government prosecutors would not say whether they would pursue a retrial.
Aside from Michael Mulcahey, a former Adelphia exec who was acquitted last week, Michael Rigas was considered by many to be the most difficult conviction to win for the government. Unlike Timothy and John Rigas, no witness could remember Michael, 50, ever having set foot on the floor of the accounting department at the company’s headquarters in Coudersport, Pa., where most of the egregious crimes took place.
His signature was on the filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission — and to the investing public — that contained faulty and misleading information. But a former juror, interviewed after the trial, described the evidence against Michael as “cloudy,” while the evidence against John and Timothy was “clear as day.”
Michael Rigas was considered a more sympathetic defendant because he did not appear to have engaged in the flagrant excesses attributed to his father and brother.
John Rigas siphoned off an estimated $1 million a month for living expenses, while Timothy used the corporate jets to make tee times coast-to-coast and to squire the actress Peta Wilson around the Caribbean.
Adelphia staff said Michael Rigas was courteous to the help and always flew wearing a suit and tie. He was found by prosecutors to have used a corporate jet for personal use just once, when he accompanied his father to the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis for cancer treatment.
“It does prove that he was a good son, but not a criminal,” said his attorney, Andrew Levander.