Business - Pennsylvania Court: 2nd Rigas trial may be double jeopardy

By Maryclaire Dale

Associated Press Writer

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Government efforts to try an imprisoned cable executive and his son a second time for overlapping charges may amount to double jeopardy, a divided U.S. appeals court ruled Wednesday.

Adelphia Communications Corp. founder John Rigas, 85, and his son Timothy, 53, are already serving long sentences for fraud and conspiracy convictions in New York. Prosecutors said they defrauded the Coudersport-based company, which collapsed in 2002, of $1.9 billion.

The Justice Department wants to prosecute them a second time in Pennsylvania for alleged failure to pay taxes on that money, a charge not lodged in the New York trial.

However, a 7-4 majority of 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals judges said the two cases appear to stem from one criminal conspiracy with overlapping acts and participants. They have ordered the trial judge to review the record with that in mind.

The government argued that the Rigases committed two distinct offenses under the conspiracy-to-defraud statute.

Federal appeals courts have split on when double jeopardy applies in such cases, and the Rigases' appeal has likewise divided the 3rd U.S. Circuit in Philadelphia. A three-judge appeals panel voted 2-1 last year to have the district judge reconsider his decision to allow a second trial. The full circuit agreed to rehear the case when prosecutors appealed.

In oral arguments in February, judges noted that nearly every financial crime involves an underlying tax fraud because few criminals report illegal income.

Judge Julio M. Fuentes, who wrote the majority opinion, noted then that prosecutors could seek a second trial if they lose the first. He said that goes to the heart of the double-jeopardy rule, which protects criminal defendants from being tried more than once for the same crime.

Lawyer Larry McMichael, who represents the Rigases, said his clients were pleased.

"The government now has the burden of proving there were two separate conspiracies," he said.

Published: Fri, May 14, 2010


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