John Rigas: The Rise and Fall of a Cunning Greek-American Businessman

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In 50 years, he has built, little by little, a business and television “empire” – he, a Chalcedonian Greek immigrant of the second generation which, as a product of time, proved to be the ideal embodiment of the “American dream”, as reports Bloomberg.

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And yet the John James Rigas, who died at the age of 96 on 30 September in Cundersport, Pennsylvania, where he lived, was not his only role model Greek-American who managed to successfully climb the corridors of the american dream and the “corridors of power”, but also a man who overestimated himself, underestimated the prosecuting authorities and from where he ran one of the largest American companies in the field of cable television, he finally managed to get involved in one of the biggest scandals in American business history.

Son of Greek immigrants, his Dimitriou Riga and Eleni Braza, Rigas was born in 1924 in Wellsville, New York and had three brothers, Gus, Mary and Kathryn. He served in the US Army during World War II and in 1952 he started a small family business in Pennsylvania with his brother Gus. The company name was Adelphia because, as is clear, its two co-founders were δέ brothers.

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THE company took over the management of a movie theater and with a $ 300 check in his pocket, he set up his first, rudimentary cable network, long before Comcast, AT&T and other companies entered the field.

Rigas ruled Adelphia with an iron fist (worked more than 12 hours a day even after the triple heart bypass he underwent in 1998), but always guided, as he said, “the Greek family values”.

It is characteristic that he refused to include in all the channels that were broadcasted through his network the Playboy channel, despite the fact that its owner, Hugh Hefner, had offered him land and water in order to broadcast his “spicy” programs on his channels.

Adelphia Communications Corporation in the process grew so large that it became the sixth largest cable television company in the United States.

Rigas hired his three sons, Timothy, Michael and James, and expanded the company to New York, New Jersey, Florida and California. And in the late 1990s he began to make some dangerous “openings”.

In 1998 he bought them Buffalo Sabres, a professional ice hockey team, and a year later paid $ 5.2 billion for acquisition of Century Communications, the largest cable TV provider in Los Angeles. The deal has doubled the size of Adelphia, which now had 5.6 million subscribers in 30 US states.

Rigas was a billionaire. And that was when his sharp fall came.

The megaton scandal of the “Brothers”

The countdown for Rigas began in 2001, when with an astonishing footnote in its earnings announcement, Adelphia wrote that “There were off-balance sheet loans of $ 2.3 billion to the Rigas family.” That was enough for the US Securities and Exchange Commission to launch an investigation.

Prosecutors later claimed that Rigas was presenting the company to shareholders as financially sound, but concealing this $ 2.3 billion debt, which he had “borrowed for family and personal use”, such as bought luxury housing estates in Colorado, Mexico and New York, and spent $ 12.8 million to build a golf course and club near the company’s headquarters in Countersport.

Finally, in 2004, Adelphia collapsed, under pressure from investigations by regulators. Rigas and his son Timothy, Adelphia’s chief financial officer, were convicted in 2007 of stock market and banking fraud, while his other son, Michael, pleaded guilty to less serious charges.

The trial revealed that the prosecutor was right when he accused Rigas that used the company as his “personal piggy bank” as it turned out that, among many others, the family spent $ 6,000 to airlift a Christmas tree to Rigas’s daughter, Ellen, in New York, and there was a $ 40,000 charge for the family’s personal massage.

THE John Rigas was sentenced to 15 years in prison and Timothy to 20 years. but the sentences of both were later reduced. The Greek-American businessman was imprisoned in 2007 at the age of 82, while he was already suffering from bladder cancer and heart disease, and was released in 2016, at the age of 91, for humanitarian reasons.

After his release, he returned to Countersport, where he spent the rest of his life trying to clear his family name. He was especially popular throughout Pennsylvania because he hired hundreds of community workers and gave generously to local charities, but – and as “the cisterns honor the first” – he remained with the spot of the swindler until his death.

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