U.S. News

Jury Finds Black, Others Guilty of Criminal Fraud


A U.S. jury Friday found Conrad Black guilty of criminal fraud and 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 was allowed to remain free on a $21 million bond pending a July 19 hearing on whether bond should be continued.

His lawyers said he would appeal, and sentencing was set for Nov. 30. Black surrendered his passport in court.

He left the courthouse without comment but his lawyer, Edward Greenspan, read a brief statement saying Black had been acquitted of the "central charges" in the case and there were "viable legal issues" on which to appeal.

Black and his three co-defendants were each convicted of three charges of mail fraud. Each fraud charge carried a potential five-year prison sentence. In addition, Black's obstruction conviction carried a possible 20-year sentence.

Overall, Black was guilty in four of 13 charges against him.

Eric Sussman, the chief federal prosecutor, indicated the government would ask for at least 15 to 20 years' jail time.

Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, said, "We are very satisfied with the jury's verdict ... it sends a message that anyone who breaks the law and violates the trust of the shareholders with their funds will be punished."

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.

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 Inc. 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 charges related to $3.5 million in payments from two separate deals involving the sale of media properties.

Black sat largely expressionless as the verdicts were read but a 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 as he sat 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.

The flamboyant Black gave up his Canadian citizenship to accept his peerage but is now trying to get it back. He numbered Henry Kissinger, Donald Trump and other powerful figures among his confidants and lived a lifestyle that included traveling on his corporate jet for a holiday in Bora Bora and a lavish birthday party for his wife at a New York restaurant.

Judge Amy St. Eve of U.S. District Court, who presided over the trial, will decide amounts for 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.