Several hundred prospective jurors answered written questions Thursday about their investments and backgrounds as the first stage of jury selection began in the trial of Adelphia Communications Corp. founder John Rigas and his two sons.
Potential jurors crowded into U.S. District Court in Manhattan, passing by television tents and camera crews set up for the securities fraud trial of Martha Stewart in an adjacent courthouse.
The 25-page questionnaire had 56 questions. Among other queries, jurors were asked whether they’d been a victim of fraud, and whether they had any connection to businesses involving the Rigas family.
The Adelphia trial, scheduled to begin Feb. 23, is expected to last three months. Rigas faces fraud charges along with his sons, Michael and Timothy, both former company executives, and Michael Mulcahey, the company’s former director of internal reporting. All four have pleaded innocent.
The Rigases are accused of conspiracy, securities fraud and bank fraud for allegedly scheming from 1999 to 2002 to steal hundreds of millions of dollars from the nation’s sixth-largest cable company, costing investors more than $60 billion.
Prosecutors said they looted the cable giant, forced it into bankruptcy, and used it as their “personal piggy bank,” hiding more than $2 billion in debts from investors as they lived lavishly, even building a golf course with company money. The Greenwood Village, Colo., company once had 5.7 million cable subscribers in more than 30 states.
Potential jurors were asked whether they had heard, read or seen anything in the news media or on the Internet about the case. If they had, the questionnaire sought to learn whether they could ignore that and view the evidence with an open mind.
The prospective jurors were also asked if they had trained or worked in accounting, banking, bookkeeping, business management, investment banking, securities, financial planning and the cable television industry.
The questionnaire also sought to learn if any of them had ever been a victim of fraud, embezzlement, theft or misappropriation of funds.
Prospective jurors also were asked what kind of investments they have, and whether they relied on others such as a financial planner or primarily themselves for investment advice.
Each person also was queried on whether he or she had any connection to more than 100 business entities ranging from banks and law firms to the National Hockey League and the Buffalo Sabres, which John Rigas owned until the NHL took control of the team.