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John J. Rigas, who built the Adelphia Communications Corporation into the country’s sixth-largest cable company, was sentenced to 15 years of prison today for looting hundreds of millions of dollars from the company’s coffers and concealing its true debt load from investors.

John J. Rigas, who built the Adelphia Communications Corporation into the country’s sixth-largest cable company, was sentenced to 15 years of prison today for looting hundreds of millions of dollars from the company’s coffers and concealing its true debt load from investors.

John Rigas, the founder of Adelphia Communications, entering court today.

“Even to this moment, you say you did nothing wrong,” Judge Leonard B. Sand told Mr. Rigas in Federal District Court in Manhattan. “That’s what is unacceptable.”

Addressing Mr. Rigas’s lawyers, he said: “If your effort is at this point to convince me that there was not blatant fraud, you’re going to have a very hard sell.”

The prison term in all likelihood amounts to a life sentence for Mr. Rigas, who is 80 and is suffering from bladder cancer and a heart ailment. Should he become terminally ill in the next two years, the sentence may be revised, Judge Sand said.

Timothy J. Rigas, Mr. Rigas’s 49-year-old son and Adelphia’s former chief financial officer, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for also stealing from the company and deceiving investors.

The elder Mr. Rigas spoke hoarsely and hunched over as he pleaded for leniency, and his family wept quietly as he was sentenced. “To my stockholders, I apologize – this whole thing has happened to all of us,” he said. “There are many things that I wish I had done differently.”

The judge ordered the two men to surrender on Sept. 19 to begin their prison terms.

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