Conrad Black to appeal against jail term

Conrad Black will launch an appeal in the US courts in the coming days after he was sentenced to six and a half years in jail.

The former Daily Telegraph owner was granted up to 12 weeks of freedom yesterday to spend Christmas with his family and put his affairs in order before reporting to a United States jail by 3 March.

Black, who was also fined $125,000 (£61,000), has said he will beat the charges against him on appeal.

Lord Black of Crossharbour “violated” his duty to shareholders when he swindled them out of more than $6 million (£2.96 million) in a fraud conspiracy with three colleagues, judge Amy St Eve said.

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

The 63-year-old, who has said he plans to launch an appeal in the next 10 days, told the court he did not agree with the jury’s verdict and blamed his successors at Hollinger International for the company’s troubles.

Black left the court with his wife Barbara Amiel and daughter Alana at his side, saying he had “nothing” to say on his case.

His lawyers requested that he be allowed to start his sentence at the minimum security Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Later, prison officials said the facility had been closed and an alternative jail would be found for the billionaire-turned-convicted fraudster.

Later, Black’s lawyers said that with Eglin not an option, the federal prison at Coleman, Florida, would be the best choice. FCI Coleman is in central Florida, around 50 miles north west of Orlando, 60 miles north east of Tampa, and 35 miles south of Ocala.

Billionaire Black, whose “champagne and caviar” lifestyle was revealed to jurors, will spend his days behind bars working for 12 cents (5p) an hour, with duties including washing windows, swabbing and buffing the floors, cleaning the toilets and picking up cigarette butts.

Black remains on bail of $21 million but his Palm Beach mansion and the proceeds from his New York apartment are safe unless he breaks his bail conditions.

During the sentencing, the judge told Black: “I frankly cannot understand how somebody of your status, on top of the media empire you were on top of, can engage in the conduct you did and put everything at risk.”

She said there was “equal justice” under the law in America, no matter how “rich, powerful or successful you are”.

“No one is above the law,” she said.

“No one is immune. And that, Mr Black, includes you.”

Shortly before being sentenced, Black moved from his leather chair at the back of the court to stand directly in front of the judge.

Asked whether he had anything to say, Black spoke in a deep but barely audible voice as he addressed the judge and the packed courtroom.

“We have the verdict we have and we can’t retry this case,” Black said.

He went on: “I do wish to profess my profound regret and sadness at the severe hardship of all the shareholders at the evaporation of $1.8 billion in shareholder value under my successors.”

Outside court, Black’s lawyer Jeffrey Steinback said Black was a “writer, husband, loving father, and your honour has read the hundreds of letters that have come in on his behalf”.

He added: “He seems to be fighting for his soul.”

Referring to the loss suffered by the shareholders he said: “Mr Black fully appreciates the loss they’ve suffered; he has the same sense of loss on an infinitely greater scale.”

He said Black had watched his empire “crumble, powerless to do anything about it”.

Eric Sussman, prosecuting, said Black’s comments about suffering the same loss as the shareholders showed that he “simply does not understand”.

“There is not a shred of remorse for the harm that he has caused the shareholders of Hollinger International.

“Simply put, he is not sorry.”

He went on: “Unlike the bank robbers who walked into banks and stole money from people they didn’t know, he stole money from people he did know.

“What brought him here today was his own greed and disdain for the rule of law.”

In a letter to the court, Sir Elton John and David Furnish described Black as a “good friend” and “the sort of person who sticks with you through thick and thin”.

Later, US attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said: “Mr Black is going to jail as a convicted felon, convicted of fraud. So we proved the case.

“The bottom line is Mr Black will do six and a half years in jail. That’s a serious amount of time.”

Later, former Hollinger International vice presidents Peter Atkinson, 60, of Oakville, Ontario, Canada, and John Boultbee, 65, of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, were sentenced to 24 months and 27 months in jail respectively over three counts of mail fraud.

But former corporate counsel Mark Kipnis, 59, of Northbrook, Illinois, escaped jail and received five years’ probation and 275 hours of community service despite being found guilty of two counts of mail fraud.

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