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Founder dismayed by Adelphia departure

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — John J. Rigas, for the most part tight-lipped through Adelphia Communications’ months-long slide into bankruptcy, his July arrest in New York and September indictment on federal fraud charges, spoke out bitterly about the new management’s decision to move the company headquarters out of rural Pennsylvania.
The decision by the new board of the bankrupt cable television provider to base the company in Denver started the near-octogenarian founder’s telephone ringing.
“I’ve had phone calls from people in this area. They are saddened and disappointed,” said Rigas, reached Tuesday at his home in Coudersport. “Some of our people will be moving and we’ll miss them.”
Rigas, 78, started the company with a small cable franchise in Coudersport in 1952.
“After 50 years of building the system with my brother and the family, it naturally saddens all of us, because we worked so hard to build the company,” Rigas said. After weeks of rumors, he said, “It’s not an unexpected move, but it hurts.”
Rigas wouldn’t comment on the long list of allegations that he and family members used the company’s cash for personal purposes, such as buying the Buffalo Sabres, expanding personal cable company holdings, acquiring timberland and building a golf course. He said the allegations “are just that: allegations.”
As for the company’s bankruptcy filing, his nationally televised arrest and his federal indictment, Rigas said, “Where we are at the present is something that would never have been scripted in my life.”
Despite that, Rigas, who said he has found it extraordinary “to watch children who have gone to school with my children come back and take a job with Adelphia,” said many area residents continue to support him.
“At first there was some mixed feeling, but when I go downtown, where people used to wave and say ’Hi John’ and shake my hand, when they see me they come up and give me a genuine hug,” Rigas said.
Rigas said he anticipated hearing the charges aired in court, maintaining, “I think at the end of the day we’ll be vindicated.”
The headquarters move had been rumored since Adelphia hired William Schleyer and Ron Cooper, both former executives with AT&T Broadband, as its new chief executive and operating officers on Jan. 17.
AT&T Broadband was headquartered in Denver until it was acquired by Philadelphia-based Comcast in November, and Cooper has a residence there.
The move is planned by midyear, subject to approval by regulators and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Adelphia spokesman Eric Andrus said.
Around Coudersport, where Adelphia’s rise from a local cable company to the nation’s fifth largest cable provider brought unprecedented growth, the news was like hearing the other shoe drop.
“It’s a real shocker, and it really saddens me that they’re moving the headquarters away,” Potter County Commissioner Peggy Kelsey said. “We wish that they would change their minds and keep all the jobs here.”
“We appreciate that the Rigas family had decided when they started Adelphia to have headquarters here,” Kelsey said.
“That’s certainly nothing that we had hoped for…,” said Ken Wingo, another county commissioner. “And I think the stockholders and the bankruptcy judge have to make the final determination on that.”
Adelphia said about 1,400 of its 14,000 employees work at the Coudersport operations center, and most would be unaffected. “The headquarters would be about 150 people when it is up and running, clearly a small number of the Coudersport people,” Andrus said.
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