sank deeper into turmoil Thursday as its financial chief, son of the company's embattled founder, stepped aside.
In addition to announcing the immediate departure of CFO Timothy J. Rigas, Adelphia said it would create a committee of three outside directors to investigate the company's many problems, including the so-called coborrowing arrangements that led the cable TV system operator into its ever-deepening crisis. Adelphia didn't name a new CFO but said it would seek a candidate.
The financial chief's resignation appeared to be the latest effort by the family that founded the company and controls its stock to regain solid footing with Wall Street. But judging by recent events, the latest Rigas resignation and the creation of the board panel will likely do little to quiet critics of Adelphia, who have worried about the company's massive debt load and its tight-lipped disclosure practices.
Wednesday, the company's 77-year-old founder and CEO for half a century, John J. Rigas, stepped down, conceding that the company was suffering from a crisis of confidence. Adelphia
put Erland "Erkie" Kailbourne, head of the company's audit committee, in his place.
Just hours after the company announced Kailbourne's appointment, though, a shareholder sent the newly seated interim CEO a letter demanding to name three additional directors, in a push toward putting Adelphia's board under independent leadership for the first time.
Saying the board's "inexplicable delay in dealing with the clear and present conflict of interest and leadership void left has created a crisis of confidence," shareholder Leonard Tow said he would consider suing the company if it didn't meet his demands by Friday. If Tow gets his way, Adelphia will be headed by a board in which the Rigas family sits in the minority for the first time. If Tow doesn't, a legal battle seems likely to ensue. Neither Tow nor the company immediately returned calls seeking comment Thursday morning.
Adelphia shares have been suspended pending a
request for more information from the company. Before the suspension they had dropped more than 70% over seven weeks, wiping out more than $5 billion in shareholder value. The slide began when Adelphia disclosed March 27 that entities owned by the Rigas family had borrowed some $2.3 billion to buy Adelphia stock, among other things, using loans that were guaranteed by Adelphia itself.
Since then, the company has said it would need to restate earnings for the last three years, repeatedly delayed filing its annual report, suffered debt downgrades and been put on notice for potential Nasdaq delisting. The crisis reached a new stage Wednesday when Adelphia hired lawyer David Boies, part of an effort the company characterized Thursday as conducting "a complete, unflinching review of all the questions that have been raised -- and to make a full and candid disclosure of each and every problem the Company finds to exist."