By: Mark Fitzgerald
Fallen newspaper baron Conrad Black will stay out of jail until his sentencing next November for his federal fraud and obstruction of justice convictions, a judge ruled Thursday.
“There is clear and convincing evidence that Mr. Black is not going to flee,” U.S. Distrcit Court Judge Amy J. St. Eve said.
The judge, however, restricted Black’s freedom to travel widely. Black can only travel within the Chicago-area Northern District of Illinois, or to his home in Plam Beach Florida.
Black’s bail will be continued at its $21 million level, St. Eve ruled. Black must also get permission from the Federal Pretrial Services Agency before taking any trip to Florida, she added.
St. Eve denied the defense team’s request to allow Black to return to Canada. She set an Aug. 1 hearing date to get more information and assurances that Black will not fight extradition.
“I am not conerned he will run and hide,” St. Eve said. “That would contradict everything about his character that I have observed during the trial. What I have observed from his character is that he would fight extradition and not come back.”
During the 90-minute hearing, Black was accompanied by his wife, the columnist, Barbara Amiel Black, and his daughter from his first marriage, Alanna.
Much of the hearing was taken up with discussion about Canada’s extradition process. St. Eve expressed frustration that she couldn’t get detailed assurances from Black’s Toronto-based attorney Edward Greenspan that Black could quickly be returned to the United States if he fought extradition.
“This is an extremely streamlined process,” Greenspan said. He added that “with one phone call” assistant U.S. District Attorney Eric Sussman, who led the prosecution during Black’s 15-week trial, could have Black arrested in Canada and returned to the United States.
“The notion that with one phone call to Canada I could get anything other than pizza is ridiculous,” Sussman shot back.
Black, 62, was convicted July 13 of three counts of fraud relating to phony non-compete fees he pocketed from the sales of Hollinger International’s community newspapers. He was also convicted of obstruction of justice for removing boxes from his office when there was a court order to preserve all documents. Black was acquitted of 9 other counts, including racketeering.
Black faces as much as 35 years in prison. Prosecutors last week said that their “conservative” estimate of the sentence they will request is 15 to 20 years.
Prosecutors could also ask for forfeiture of alleged fraudulently obtained money in an amount ranging from just below $3 million to as much as $60 million. He also could be hit with a $1 million fine.
Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 30.
Black has been free under a $21 million bond, secured largely by his mansion in Palm Beach, Fla. Prosecutors contend the mansion is encumbered by $24 million in liens, and that Black has repeatedly misled the government about his financial situation. The bond is also secured by $8.6 million seized by FBI agents at the closing of the sale of his New York City condo.
The feds also want Black to forfeit a $2.6 million, 26-carat diamond ring and a brooch he bought for his wife, columnist Barbara Amiel Black, on a shopping spree that allegedly followed improper payments.
Black’s co-defendants — former Hollinger Vice President Peter Atkinson, 60; its former CFO John “Jack” Boultbee, 64; and former General Counsel Mark Kipnis, 59 — have been released on bond until their sentencing. Boultbee and Atkinson, both Canadian citizens, have also been allowed to return to Canada.
Black’s trial began with opening arguments March 20.
Black was chairman and CEO of Hollinger International, which, at its peak, the world’s third-largest publisher of English-language newspapers, behind News Corp. and Gannett Co.
Among its papers were the Daily Telegraph in London, the National Post in Toronto, and the Jerusalem Post.
Now the chain is known as Sun-Times Media Group, reflecting its ownership of the Chicago Sun-Times and dozens of other community papers in the Chicago market.