The star witness at media mogul Conrad Black’s fraud trial was hammered by defense attorneys as a liar and scolded by the judge for unsolicited comments Tuesday, his sixth combative day on the stand.
F. David Radler, a tough, 64-year-old newspaper executive prosecutors are counting on to clinch their case against Black, has made it plain he has no intention of being a pushover for defense attorneys and has freely offered opinions no one requested when it suits him to speak out.
“Mr. Radler, I’ve told you multiple times over several days now ? please restrain yourself,” U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve said Tuesday.
Black, 62, and three co-defendants are charged with swindling the Hollinger International newspaper holding company out of millions of dollars, largely by selling off hundreds of small community newspapers across the United States and Canada and pocketing payments from the buyers.
The payments were in exchange for promises not to compete with the new owners in their circulation areas. Prosecutors say the money should have been paid to Hollinger International shareholders and not the executives.
They claim the four executives, and Radler as well, tried to slip the alleged scheme past the Hollinger International board of directors.
Radler has pleaded guilty to fraud and agreed to a lenient, 29-month sentence in exchange for testifying against his partner of three decades.
Radler and Black, both Canadians, started with a single, tiny, money-losing paper in Sherbrooke, Quebec, and built it into a billion-dollar media empire with newspapers in Chicago, Toronto, London and Jerusalem.
Radler, former publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times, launched his testimony May 7 by freely admitting that when first confronted by suspicious company directors and federal investigators he told numerous lies. Defense attorneys have been dwelling in detail on those lies for four days now, hoping to demolish him in the jury’s eyes.
He seemed cocky at times and testified that it was Black who directed company officials to make the disputed “non-compete” payments to small, Toronto-based companies and to individual executives.
The battle seesawed Tuesday when Gustave Newman, staccato-talking, wisecracking attorney for Black co-defendant John Boultbee, asked him about a letter Radler’s attorney sent to former Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson.
Thompson was chairman of the audit committee of Hollinger International’s board of directors and had asked Radler attorney Anton Valukas questions about Radler’s handling of company business.
“You saw that over Mr. Valukas’s signature was information that was false,” Newman thundered.
“Yes,” Radler said.
“On the stationary of (law firm) Jenner & Block and over the good name of Anton Valukas you allowed him to send fake information?” Newman asked.
“That’s what I did,” Radler said.
Radler’s odyssey through cross examination that continues Wednesday started on a stronger note last week when he seemed confident and repeatedly scored points against Black’s attorney, Edward L. Greenspan.
Greenspan recalled that a Sherbrooke Record editorial by Black had been reprinted in the Congressional Record and, his voice rising dramatically, asked Radler if he didn’t consider that “a big deal.”
“It was a big deal to Conrad,” Radler said quietly, drawing a roar from the spectator benches.
On Monday, however, the tone changed. Greenspan accused Radler of setting up a dummy company to buy shares secretly in a newspaper holding company in which he and Black had agreed to be equal partners.
Radler explained that he didn’t really control the company because he had appointed a trustee to do it.
But Greenspan got him to admit he had an undated resignation letter from the trustee as well as a written promise to follow Radler’s orders.
On Tuesday, Radler repeatedly claimed that he couldn’t give a yes or no answer to questions and asked to see documents to help his memory.
Some trial watchers said in interviews they thought it looked sneaky.
“He had evasiveness written all over him,” said Susan Berger, a freelance journalist who is blogging the trial at http://www.blacksjustice.com.
Steven Skurka, a Toronto-based attorney who is blogging the trial at http://www.thecrimesheet.com, said Radler “was a remarkably resilient witness at the beginning of his testimony and withstood a barrage of really tough questioning.”
But he said that under days of pounding Radler has seemed to lose some of his spark. “Perhaps it was inevitable,” he said.
The main theory of the defense is that Black was busy in London running the prestigious Daily Telegraph, formerly owned by Hollinger, while Radler was making the deals that prosecutors say amounted to fraud.
They say Radler now is lying to get his deal. They say if he is allowed to serve his sentence in Canada as is possible he may do only six months before being paroled.