Jurors Deliver Mixed Verdict Against Former Media Mogul Black
A U.S. jury Friday found Conrad Black guilty of three counts of criminal fraud and one charge of obstruction of justice in a grim Friday the 13th verdict that could send the former media baron to jail for up to 35 years.
Black's three co-defendants were also convicted of three counts of mail fraud and could each get up to 15 years in prison.
The 62-year-old, Canadian-born member of Britain's House of Lords -- who once derided the case against him as a "massive smear job" and "toilet seat" hanging around prosecutors' necks -- also faces millions of dollars in fines and forfeitures.
His lawyers said he would appeal. Sentencing was not likely to occur until sometime in October. The status of Black's bond was being reviewed by the trial judge but there were indications he would remain free and not be taken into custody.
The jury acquitted Black of a racketeering charge and all four defendants were also found not guilty of failing to file corporate tax returns.
Black's three co-defendants, former Hollinger International chief financial officer Jack Boultbee, 64; Peter Atkinson, 60, former vice president and general counsel for the same company; and Mark Kipnis, 59, a former Hollinger lawyer, were all found guilty of the same mail fraud charges as Black.
The verdict left Black guilty of three counts of mail fraud and one charge of obstruction of justice out of the 13 counts against him.
Black sat largely expressionless as the verdicts were read but a visible scowl crept across his face when he was found guilty of obstructing justice -- a charge that related to his removing cartons of records from his Toronto office.
Black's 25-year-old daughter, Alana, and columnist-wife Barbara Amiel Black leaned over to talk to him; he remained seated at the defense table.
"I would think he is in total shock. He really did believe he was innocent," Canadian author Peter Newman, who wrote a 1982 Black biography, told Reuters.
Orin Snyder, a former federal prosecutor now with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher's crisis management practice group, said the verdict is bad news for Black and "a real victory for the government."
Judge Amy St. Eve of the U.S. District Court, who presided over the trial, will decide the amount of the fines and forfeitures, which could include Black's Palm Beach, Florida, estate and assorted other luxury items such as a $2.6 million diamond ring.
Black and the others had been accused by U.S. prosecutors of pilfering $60 million in payments that should have benefited Hollinger International, once the world's third-largest English language newspaper chain, and its shareholders.
At one time, Hollinger's major newspaper holdings included such prominent names as the Daily Telegraph of London, the Jerusalem Post and Canada's National Post.
15 WEEKS OF TESTIMONY
The verdict came after nearly 15 weeks of testimony in federal court.
The prosecution was led by the office of Chicago-based U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who also prosecuted former White House aide Scooter Libby.
The jury of nine women and three men had considered the complex, 42-count case for 12 days since it was handed to them on June 27.
In a trial that featured about 50 witnesses, prosecutors painted Black and his associates as no better than common thieves.
The defense said the men, who pleaded not guilty and did not take the stand in their own defense, were victims of overzealous prosecutors who failed to produce either a "smoking gun" or victims.
The government's star witness was long-time Black partner David Radler, who pleaded guilty to one count of fraud in an agreement that required him to testify against the four men in exchange for up to 29 months in jail.
The prosecution tried to show that Black and the others were just as guilty as Radler and, like him, lied about what they did. The defense depicted Radler as a serial liar.
Black was ousted as chairman of Hollinger International in 2003 after shareholders questioned the non-compete payment deals. An internal investigation in 2004 concluded that he and other executives oversaw a "corporate kleptocracy."
Hollinger International is now called the Sun-Times Media Group.