By: Mark Fitzgerald
The looting of the Sun-Times Media Group (STMG), for which Conrad Black now stands convicted, threw the Chicago newspaper company into turmoil from which it’s still emerging. Yet Friday afternoon, the reaction in the executives suites could best be described as restrained happiness at the split verdict, with Black now facing up to 35 years in prison.
“I don’t want to be portrayed by anyone, including the TV cameras I just talked to, as jumping up and down with glee at what’s transpired with this man,” STMG Chairman and CEO Cyrus F. Freidheim said in an interview with E&P in his 10th floor office in Chicago.
“We’re not celebrating or anything like that,” he added.
On the other hand, he acknowledged, Black’s conviction clearly helps STMG as he attempts to right itself financially.
With the trial over, STMG can again press its $542 million lawsuit against Black and Hollinger Inc., the Toronto-based holding company that owns a controlling stake in the Chicago Sun-Times publisher.
“Well, it can’t hurt,” Freidheim said of the verdict’s effect on the lawsuit.
Freidheim portrayed the verdict as yet another step in “getting this very dark period of the company behind us.”
It has a similar effect as the recent settlement of STMG’s Canadian tax bill, which was far lower than Wall Street had expected. “One after another, things are happening that are positive for us and our future,” Freidheim said.
While Freidheim declined to take any personal shots at Black, the deposed newspaper mogul and British peer felt no such restraint — at one point referring to Freidheim as a ?septuagenarian banana marketer.? Freidheim, 71, was CEO of Chiquita Brand International at one time.
Sun-Times Publisher John Cruickshank said the verdict assures the staff that Black cannot come back and take over the newspaper and its chain of about 100 community papers in the Chicago area. “It was incredibly distracting,” he said.
“For people who lived through it, with all the things that happened, there’s a sense of justice,” Cruickshank said of the verdict.
Cruickshank moved from editor to publisher when F. David Radler was ousted from Hollinger International, as STMG was formerly called. Radler pleaded guilty to a single count of mail fraud in the looting of STMG, and was the prosecution’s star witness at the trial of Black and three other former Hollinger International executives.