He was born above the Texas Hot and always called Wellsville NY his home.
By JOHN ANDERSON
COUDERSPORT, Pa. — Wellsville native and former Adelphia Cable and Buffalo Sabres owner John Rigas passed away today at the age of 96.
During public appearances during his ownership, he would joke the people of Wellsville and Coudersport believed in him to build his empire, buying two fuzzy cable channels when they had three clear public channels for free.
Rigas was born above the Texas Hot in Wellsville on Nov. 14, 1924 to Demetrious “James’ Rigas and Eleini Rigas. He is survived by his sons, Timothy, Michael, James and daughter Ellen.
Rigas graduated from Wellsville High School and was a World War II combat veteran in the Army. After the military, he graduated from RPI.
He formed Adelphia (two brothers in Greek) Communications with his late brother, Gus Rigas. The company grew to nearly 6 million customers and he also started the regionally popular Empire Sports Network.
In Wellsville, Rigas not only helped save businesses, he bought them and let the former owners run them. He started the Wellsville Nitros collegiate baseball team and donated $2 million for a new track and field facility.
In 1997, Rigas bought the Buffalo Sabres hockey team and under his ownership, the team nearly won a Stanley Cup championship.
His professional career took a turn when he was indicted for bank fraud, wire fraud and securities fraud along with four others for use of $2.3 million of Adelphia funds as the company became public.
Rigas maintained his innocence and was released from prison early on Feb. 19, 2016. There were concerns that cancer had spread from his lungs to his bladder and kidney’s as a federal judge released Rigas from a federal prison in Pennsylvania.
In an interview I did with Gus Rigas for the then-Wellsville Daily Reporter, Gus Rigas said, “I’m glad this was granted, he needs to get where he can get care and get better care. When I talked to him a week ago, he would get weak and tired. I didn’t know if this (release) would happen, he didn’t know if it would happen, we were just hoping it would happen.”
His son, Michael Rigas said at the time, “Thank you, all of our friends and family, for your love, prayers and support. It’s kept everyone going, most of all our father.”The case cost Adelphia and Coudersport dearly. At one point, the company had sales of $3.58 billion and 15,735 employees. Stock dropped 70 percent during the bankruptcy filing in 2002 and the company was in debt by $18.6 billion.
Rigas stayed positive through the trial and sentence. He sent this reporter several letters over the years (I did cover his trial in New York City) and during his release the past six years he has made some public appearances and was recently at the Texas Hot as Nick Davis of Genesee Valley Media was filming a mini documentary for the 100-year anniversary of the restaurant.
Despite national media claims, Rigas was never an owner of Texas Hot and only worked there a few weeks as a child. He joked he would go on a bread delivery and wind up playing football and baseball all day and night in Wellsville instead.
Our sincere condolences to the entire Rigas family, the Raptis family, and his wide network of family and friends.