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Family Friend Responds to Rigas Sentencings

By Eileen Buckley

Coudersport, NY – In John Rigas' hometown of Coudersport, Pennsylvania, not too many people were willing to talk about Monday's sentencing of Rigas to 15 years in prison. The tight knit community knew the Rigases and knew them well.

The owner of the Coudersport Service Center where John Rigas would bring his vehicle for repairs said he didn't want to comment. No was willing to talk when we placed a call to the busy Coudersport Country Club. And at the Coudersport Theatre, still owned by John Rigas, only a recording was available for information the evenings movie selection.

But Ginger Erway -- owner of Erway's Restaurant in Coudersport -- and a Rigas family friend -- was willing to talk with us.

"The whole thing is sad. We know John and Tim Rigas," Erway said. "They are not criminals they are good people."

Erway says she has know John Rigas all her life -- 55-years to be exact. She says she last talked to him just one week ago. But despite the fact that he was facing his sentencing, Erway says he was only concerned about others in the small-town of Coudersport.

"We talked about people in the town. He asked about people he was concerned about, elderly friends of his."

Erway says she believes many Coudersport residents who know the Rigas family are probably devastated by the sentencing. And because she is a close family friend, she doesn't place blame on anyone specific when it comes to the entire Adelphia scandal.

"I don't think it is anymore the children, than employees and maybe executives. It is something that just happened and is very devastating," Erway said. "And I think for his family, it has to be the worst."

But at the Beef Haus Restaurant in Wellsville, where Rigas got his start in business, bartender Craig Hanchett says he believes it was a "fair" sentence.

"You have to have responsibility in business. From everything I have heard about the case, it looks like the family was looking after themselves, instead of their stockholders first," Hanchett said. "If we allow business practices like that to continue, there will be no successful businesses in the United States."

Still, back in Coudersport, Erway says John Rigas has always been a caring man. She says he remains in very poor health and is not doing well. The long-time family friend is hoping to see Rigas before he begins serving time to tell him she loves and supports him.