Black guilty on 4 charges, including obstruction
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Friday, July 13, 2007 8:53PM EDT
A U.S. jury found Conrad Black guilty of three counts of criminal fraud and the serious charge of obstruction of justice -- but cleared the former media tycoon of racketeering, wire fraud and tax evasion on Friday.
The convictions mean Black, 62, faces a maximum sentence of 35 years, if served consecutively, and US$1 million in fines.
U.S. prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said sentencing guidelines would suggest a "conservative range of 188 to 235 months" in prison, "which in fast math is 15 � to 20 years."
Black's sentencing hearing has been set for Nov. 30 at 9 a.m. CT. In the meantime, Judge Amy St. Eve ordered Black to stay in Chicago and surrender his British passport until a July 19 bail hearing.
Friday's criminal conviction means Black is now essentially inadmissible to Canada. It's also unlikely he'll ever regain his Canadian citizenship, which he gave up in 2001 to become a member of the British House of Lords.
Black would need to live in Canada for a year before applying for citizenship, but his conviction bars him from crossing the border.
However, Immigration Minister Diane Finley has the power to grant him citizenship, if she feels it's necessary on humanitarian grounds.
"The power to restore Mr. Black's citizenship belongs to the Canadian government," immigration lawyer Richard Kurland told CTV's The Verdict.
Black's Canadian attorney Edward Greenspan said he will appeal the guilty verdict.
"We intend to appeal and there are viable legal issues. We vehemently disagree with the government's position on sentencing," Greenspan told reporters. "We believe, based on the conviction of the charges here, the sentences for this type of defence are far less than what the government suggests."
In a press conference held Friday afternoon, Fitzgerald said his team of prosecutors was "gratified" by the jury's verdict.
"We think the verdict vindicates the serious public interest in making sure that when insiders in a corporation deal with money entrusted to them by shareholders, that they not engage in self dealing, that they not break the law to benefit themselves," said Fitzgerald.
When St. Eve read the extradition waiver to Black, asking whether he planned to appear for the sentencing hearing, Black replied: "Absolutely."
If he fails to appear, the judge warned Black his previously-set US$21 million bail would be forfeited.
"I understand," said Black.
The prosecution's earlier request that Black be remanded in custody while awaiting sentencing was denied.
The former head of newspaper empire Hollinger Inc. sat expressionless, his gaze turned downward as the jury delivered its verdict after 12 days of deliberation. But as the obstruction verdict was read, Black looked up, his brow furrowed and a scowl on his face. His wife Barbara Amiel and daughter Alana walked to Black's side after the verdict.
While he was cleared of racketeering, legal expert Paula Todd called the obstruction charge, which carries a maximum 20-year jail term, "extraordinary."
"This is very bad news for Conrad Black, for Eddie Greenspan and for his lawyer Ed Genson," said Todd.
The mail fraud convictions carry a maximum penalty of 15 years in jail. And while he won't likely serve 35 years, "he is probably looking at prison time," said Todd.
Ted Chung, a lawyer following the case, told CTV that Black faces a lengthy prison term which will be "dictated by the loss incurred by victims (the shareholders)."
The obstruction of justice charge related to a 2005 incident, when Black was caught on videotape removing of 13 boxes from his Toronto office.
Prosecutors alleged Black moved the material just before receiving a subpoena from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. However, Lord Black insisted he took only personal items. He returned the boxes a few days later.
Black's co-defendants, former Hollinger International vice-presidents John Boultbee and Peter Atkinson, as well as Chicago lawyer Mark Kipnis, were all found guilty of three counts of mail fraud.
The judge said Atkinson and Boultbee could return to Canada under strict conditions, despite prosecutors' demands that the men surrender their Canadian passports and remain in the U.S. until sentencing.
Both men left the courtroom after promising to check in every Friday at noon until the sentencing date. CTV News reporters said both men put up bonds and waived their right to extradition.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, are also seeking a forfeiture of as much as US$92 million because they say the money comes from the proceeds of crime. The judge, not the jury, is to decide on the forfeiture issue -- which Todd said works in Black's favour.
"The jury solidly ruled against Black. The last thing you want is this jury to decide what happens to (his assets). No one is better situated than Judge St. Eve. He can be assured her decision will probably be fair, simply because she understands the law."
Greenspan said the forfeiture amount has continually been revised over the course of the U.S. government's investigation.
"The original forfeiture that was alleged was for $92 million; when we were indicted the allegation was $90 million in loss, and now the lost amount is for Conrad Black for $2.9 million," he said.
There were 42 charges in all to consider, including: 13 against Black, 11 against Boultbee, 10 against Atkinson and eight against Kipnis.
Here's how the jury ruled on the counts under which Black was charged:
- Count One: Mail Fraud -- guilty
- Count Five: Mail and Wire Fraud -- not guilty
- Count Six: Mail and Wire Fraud -- guilty
- Count Seven: Mail and Wire Fraud -- guilty
- Count Eight: Mail and Wire Fraud -- not guilty
- Count Nine: Mail and Wire Fraud -- not guilty
- Count 10: Mail and Wire Fraud -- not guilty
- Count 11: Mail and Wire Fraud -- not guilty
- Count 12: Mail and Wire Fraud -- not guilty
- Count 13: Concealing Documents from an Official Proceeding (obstruction) -- guilty
- Count 14: Racketeering -- not guilty
- Count 15: Aiding or Assisting in Preparation of False Tax Returns -- not guilty
- Count 16: Aiding or Assisting in Preparation of False Tax Returns -- not guilty
In the U.S., mail and wire fraud garners a maximum prison sentence of five years, obstruction 20 years, racketeering 20 years and tax fraud three years.
Former U.S. prosecutor Jacob Frenkel said he believed the prosecution would have been satisfied with just one guilty finding against each of the defendants. Since the jury exceeded that standard, there is little chance prosecutors will pursue an appeal.
"The counts on which the defence were acquitted are a closed book, but the conviction was so overwhelming there is absolutely no reason for an appeal," he told CTV Newsnet.
But another former prosecutor, Terry Sullivan, said the "mixed verdict" for Black "is very good grounds for appeal.''
Over a four-month period, the jury heard dozens of witnesses and evidence about highly complex transactions involving newspapers owned by Hollinger International, a publicly-traded company controlled and managed by Black, who held the title of CEO until 2003.
On Tuesday, the jury sent a letter to the judge, saying they were "unable to reach a unanimous verdict on one or more counts. Please advise."
St. Eve responded by instructing them again on how to break a deadlock. What exactly led to the jury's change of heart will remain a mystery for now, reported CTV's Rosemary Thompson from outside the courthouse. "Many have been hoping (the jury) would talk, but all of them have declined."
The core of the case involved the payment of non-compete fees to Black and the others. Those are fees paid to the seller to ensure they do not start up a publication to compete with the one they just sold.
The prosecution argued that Black and the others fraudulently pocketed US$60 million in such fees, money that should have gone to company shareholders.
They also alleged Black fraudulently misused about $20 million of company funds on things like parties, trips and a Manhattan apartment.
Black and his co-defendants maintained they did nothing wrong and that all payments were properly disclosed. Black's attorneys said the bills were justified business expenses and that he paid his fair share in the apartment deal.
Black's former newspaper empire once included the National Post, Jerusalem Post and London's Daily Telegraph.