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Humbled Rigases make a sad spectacle

   NEW YORK -- The sad, surreal saga of John J. Rigas took one of its oddest turns yet Thursday, as the wizened face of the onetime Buffalo Sabres owner swallowed up the left third of a wide-screen television in a federal courtroom here during the Rigas family's latest appeal for mercy.

   Rigas and his son Timothy appeared via videoconference at a resentencing hearing, asking Judge Leonard B. Sand to dramatically cut the sentences they started serving at a North Carolina federal prison last August.

   John Rigas, 83, is supposed to be there 15 years, while his middle-aged son is set for 20 years behind bars. Both were convicted of fraud and conspiracy in 2004 in connection with the downfall of Adelphia Communications Corp., which crumbled in what the government called one of the biggest corporate frauds ever.

   And while this plea for mercy is a matter of law best left to Judge Sand, it was striking to see what nine months in prison had done to John and Timothy Rigas.

   The family patriarch looked smaller and more frail and utterly overwhelmed by what had happened to him. At times he seemed distracted, but when his son James pleaded for a reduced sentence, the father wiped away tears.

   And the once-dark-haired Timothy, like Leland in "Twin Peaks," seems to have gone gray overnight.

   In light of it all, the Rigases' lawyer, Lawrence G. McMichael, asked Sand a question that I invite all of you to answer.

   "You're looking at a man who is 83 years old and is sentenced to 15 years in prison," McMichael said. "He's not going to live 15 years; he's going to live three or four years. So that's a life sentence. What purpose does it serve to keep him incarcerated?"

    -- Jerry Zremski   

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Crime & Courts
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