Company founder John Rigas and his son Timothy Rigas kept 22 cars owned by Adelphia Communications Corp. after they resigned from the cable company in May 2002, longtime employee Charles Raptis testified Wednesday.
Raptis negotiated with John Rigas several times to reclaim the vehicles, and ultimately threatened to make it a police matter, he said in his second day of testimony in the fraud trial of John Rigas and two of his sons.
John Rigas, Timothy Rigas, Michael Rigas and former Adelphia executive Michael Mulcahey have pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy and fraud. They are accused of misleading creditors and investors and using Adelphia as “a personal piggy bank.”
Raptis, formerly an assistant to John Rigas and currently in charge of maintenance and facilities at Adelphia, is a distant cousin and an old family friend of the Rigases.
In late May or early June of 2002, Raptis approached John Rigas, saying the company would like its cars back.
“I do recall him asking for time he had no replacement cars immediately available,” Raptis testified.
Raptis returned another day, asked for John Rigas’ cooperation, and with the help of employees retrieved 17 of the cars, he said.
“He didn’t object to the company’s retrieval efforts, but he certainly didn’t offer them back in any cooperative manner,” said Raptis.
“Just afterward, I phoned Mr. Rigas and indicated there were a balance of five left and I needed them,” Raptis said. He said if the five remaining vehicles were not returned within 24 hours, “the company was willing to file charges for possession of stolen property.”
Adelphia employees then retrieved the five cars, Raptis said.
Former chairman John Rigas had 17 Adelphia-owned vehicles and former chief financial officer Timothy Rigas had five, including a Lexus sport utility vehicle that Adelphia bought new for $50,000, a Cadillac convertible and a Corvette convertible. One Adelphia-owned vehicle had on its door a logo for Wending Creek Farms, which is owned by John Rigas and not part of Adelphia.
John Rigas’ other three children Michael Rigas, James Rigas and Ellen Rigas Venetis each had one Adelphia-owned vehicle until early May 2002, said Raptis. In the first two weeks of May, Michael Rigas and Ellen Rigas Venetis returned their vehicles, and James Rigas agreed to buy his, Raptis testified.
Raptis also said he is trying to sell Adelphia’s membership in the Briar’s Creek golf club in South Carolina. Adelphia paid $700,000 to the club in 2000, earlier witnesses said. The highest bid Raptis has received is $223,500, he said.
In 2000, Adelphia purchased thousands of acres with timber rights reversing to the Rigases in the event of a change of control of the company, Raptis said.
“In case that Adelphia would be sold to another company, he wouldn’t want that future owner to be able to come into Coudersport and cut all the trees down,” said Raptis, when asked how John Rigas explained the change in control provision.
Adelphia also paid for expenses related to Ellen Rigas’ October 1998 wedding, including $4,216.35 to the Potato Country Inn to house guests, said Raptis, and $500 to a chanter who sang hymns at the altar during the ceremony, said Raptis.
Raptis also testified that for some time until 2002, the company paid a salary of $40,000 a year to a personal trainer and masseur for John Rigas, Timothy Rigas, and Michael Rigas. The trainer, Greg Capatch, didn’t have any other responsibilities, and “only reported to work at the Rigas home,” said Raptis.
The defense sought to cast doubt on Raptis’ testimony by asking about a raise in 2002 and a bonus he received earlier this year.
There were more spectators than usual in the courtroom Wednesday. Many were employees of Wending Creek Farms, a Pennsylvania farm that sells Christmas trees, timber, honey and other products. One of them said outside the courtroom they were there “to support John.”
After prosecutors complained to the judge about potential witnesses watching the trial, defense attorneys asked two spectators to leave the courtroom.