The article was updated at 6:39 p.m.
NEW YORK — A federal judge Monday sentenced 80-year-old John Rigas to a 15-year prison term for corporate fraud, even as the frail cable pioneer said he’d go to his grave believing he was only trying to make life better for his family and their company Adelphia.
Timothy Rigas — John Rigas’ 48-year-old son — was sentenced to 20 years for his role in the Adelphia embezzlement scandal, which U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand described as one of the “largest frauds” of its kind.
John Rigas was sentenced first.
“Were it not for your age and health, I would impose a sentence far greater than I do today,” Sand told the fallen patriarch, who became the poster boy for the corporate perp walk when arrested and hauled out of his luxurious Gotham apartment in 2002.
Sand did offer some leeway in the event that John Rigas’ health begins to fail. He said if prison doctors determined that Rigas had less than three months to live and had served at least two years, prison officials could request that the sentence be voided.
Government prosecutors had wanted the court to sentence each Rigas to a staggering 215-year prison term for using company coffers to bankroll extravagant personal spending sprees — such as John Rigas paying $25 million for forest rights to protect the view from his ranch.
John and Timothy Rigas were found guilty on charges relating to the embezzlement of $1 billion, hiding $2.3 billion in debt and deceiving investors.
A jury acquitted another son, Michael Rigas, on some charges but was deadlocked on others. A retrial is skedded for this fall.
Sand said John Rigas “set Adelphia on a track of lying, of cheating, of defrauding” and that “regrettably for everyone, this was not stopped over 10 years ago.”
But John Rigas insisted during Monday’s hearing in Gotham that he intended no wrong, even if he made “mistakes” in the way he ran Adelphia.
“I may be convicted and sentenced, but in my heart and conscience, I’ll go to my grave believing truly that I did nothing but try to improve conditions,” Rigas said.
Like his father, Timothy Rigas professed no nefarious intent.
“Our intentions were good. The results were not,” the younger Rigas told Sand.
Separately, the Rigas cable clan has turned over more than $1.5 billion in assets for bilking Adelphia — the largest forfeiture for individuals in U.S. corporate history. Settlement was reached earlier this year with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Adelphia, which filed for bankruptcy in the wake of the scandal, is being sold to Time Warner Cable and Comcast.
The sentencing hearing came just there days after a jury found former Tyco chief executive Dennis Kozlowski and former Tyco chief financial officer Mark Swartz guilty of bilking the company out of $600 million.
And next month, former WorldCom chief executive Bernard Ebbers is skedded to be sentenced for his role in the record-breaking, $11 billion accounting fraud case engulfing WorldCom.
(Wire services contributed to this report.)