Conrad Black sentenced to 78 months and £61K fine

Conrad Black has been sentenced to six and one-half years in prison and fined $125,000 (£61,000) for his role in a £3 million fraud by a judge in Chicago today.

He will begin his sentence in a low-security federal prison beginning on 3 March 2008.

Lord Black of Crossharbour and other Hollinger International executives swindled shareholders out of 6.1 million dollars (£2.96 million) of their money, judge Amy St Eve ruled.

In July, a jury in Chicago found that Black had illegally received $3.5 million (£1.7 million) of this as they convicted him of three counts of fraud and one of obstruction in the $60 million (£29.6 million) fraud trial.

Prosecutors argued the 63-year-old former Daily Telegraph owner and once-powerful chief executive of the Hollinger newspaper empire should be held responsible for his role in the entire 32 million dollar (£15.8 million) fraud scheme and are seeking a sentence of 24-30 years.

But defence lawyers argued his responsibility must be limited to the three specific fraud counts for which he was found guilty – a total of 6.1 million dollars (£3 million), according to the pre-sentence report, or just three million dollars (£1.48 million), according to the defence.

The judge said the jury paid “close attention” to the trial and acquitted Black of the charges involving the higher amounts of money.

The difference could lead to Black being sentenced to just five years in prison.

Black, wearing a blue pin-stripe suit and gold tie, was wished “good luck” by his defence lawyer Edward Greenspan as he arrived in the 12th floor courtroom for the hearing.

He was accompanied by his British wife Barbara Amiel, wearing a black jacket and beige scarf, and his daughter Alana, also wearing a black jacket.

The two women took their seats in the front row of the public gallery, around 10 feet behind where Black was sat with his legal team.

During the highly-complex four-month trial, the court was given details of Black’s lavish lifestyle, which the jury heard was partly funded through fraud.

Defence lawyers said the US government was trying to sow prejudice among the middle-class Chicago jurors by stressing the wealthy newspaper executive’s “champagne and caviar” lifestyle.

The jury had to consider 42 counts against Black and his three co-defendants – John Boultbee, of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, and Peter Atkinson, of Oakville, Ontario, who are both former Hollinger International vice presidents, and former corporate counsel Mark Kipnis, of Northbrook, Illinois – in the trial.

The prosecution said the 60 million dollars came mainly from the sale of hundreds of Hollinger-owned US and Canadian regional newspapers between 1998 and 2001, in which the buyers paid large sums in return for agreements that Hollinger would not compete with the new owners.

The jurors heard more than 40 witnesses during 14 weeks of evidence before they retired to consider their verdicts and deliberated for 12 days.

Later, jurors said there was “no smoking gun” in the trial and no single key piece of evidence pointing to the former media mogul’s guilt.

Black was also accused, among other things, of cheating Hollinger International by taking the company plane on a holiday to Bora Bora in French Polynesia and billing shareholders 40,000 dollars (£19,700) for his wife’s surprise birthday party.

He was cleared of the charges relating to these allegations.

The case reflected the US government’s efforts to crack down on corporate malpractice in recent years, following the Enron, Natwest Three, Tyco and WorldCom scandals.

The judge also ruled that Black will not be treated as a leader or organiser of the fraud.

She said his former co-defendant David Radler, who accepted a plea deal and will receive a more lenient sentence for testifying for the prosecution, was “just as culpable”.

“The evidence demonstrated that his co-defendant Radler was calling as many shots and directing where the money was going,” she said.

Black, who has continued to insist he is innocent since being convicted, has said the prospect of a lengthy spell in prison was “a bore but quite endurable”.

In an email sent to Canadian broadcaster CBC, Black said he would not feel ashamed of being jailed.

“I can get on with anyone and adjust to almost anything and I don’t consider it shaming,” he said.

And last month, Black said he would beat the charges against him on appeal.

He made the comments before signing copies of his recent biography of Richard Nixon in a video link-up between Waterstone’s in London’s Piccadilly and his Palm Beach mansion in Florida, where he was on bail.

“We are quite confident that the remaining counts are nonsense, and we will get rid of them on appeal,” he said.

“We are three-quarters of the way through being vindicated, and expect to go the rest of the way. The counts that are still there are not sustainable.”

Asked what he would write about next, he said: “I may write about my own travails, I wrote a book about myself some years ago, and nobody was interested. Now, I think I could sell it quite well.”

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