Jurors who convicted former media baron Conrad Black say the complicated corporate fraud case became easier to understand as prosecutors laid out their evidence, and camera images showing the British lord carrying boxes out to his car were key to his conviction on one charge.
Black, 62, who once renounced his Canadian citizenship to become a member of the British House of Lords, was found guilty Friday by a federal jury of three counts of mail fraud and one count of obstruction of justice for moving documents out of his Toronto office in defiance of a court order. He was acquitted of nine other counts, including the most serious charge — racketeering.
At the outset of the trial, it was difficult to keep track of the different companies involved, said juror Tina Kadisak. But eventually, “you began to understand.”
The jury grappled with some of the counts during deliberations but said the prosecution came up short in its argument for the racketeering charge. Juror Monica Prince told the Chicago Sun-Times that there wasn’t enough “paper evidence” to support a conviction on that count.
Kadisak, meanwhile, said the allegations of racketeering were credible but not supported by the evidence.
“There wasn’t enough evidence there,” the 32-year-old hairdresser said to the Chicago Tribune. “Could I see that it happened? Yes … but there wasn’t proof of it.”
Black was convicted of swindling the Hollinger International newspaper empire he once ran out of millions of dollars. When he was indicted in 2005, prosecutors accused him of bilking shareholders out of $84 million. But during bond discussions that followed the verdict, Black’s defense attorneys said he was convicted of stealing $3.5 million.
Three other former Hollinger executives — John Boultbee, 65, of Victoria, British Columbia, Peter Y. Atkinson, 60, of Oakville, Ontario, and Mark Kipnis, 59, of Northbrook, Ill. — also were convicted of fraud charges.
Hollinger International, based in Chicago and renamed Sun-Times Media Group Inc. last year, was at one time one of the world’s largest publishers of community newspapers as well as the Chicago Sun-Times, the Daily Telegraph of London and Israel’s Jerusalem Post.
Jurors said they placed little weight in testimony from the government’s star witness, F. David Radler.
Radler, the Sun-Times’ former publisher and Black’s partner in building the Hollinger empire over three decades, pleaded guilty to mail fraud and agreed to testify in exchange for a lenient 29-month sentence and a $250,000 fine.
Black had said he was busy with newspaper interests in Britain and eastern Canada and left most of the sales of community newspapers and non-compete arrangements to Radler. Radler, however, said Black was well aware of how and why the money was being paid.
Prince said Radler seemed to be looking out for Black while on the witness stand.
“He was covering up for his buddy,” the juror said. “He didn’t really say much. He kept contradicting himself. He was trying to fool the jury. He was just trying to get through it. He was trying to confuse the jury to cover for Black. We reached the verdict in spite of what he said.”
Jurors delivered their verdict early on the 12th day of deliberations. Among the evidence they considered was surveillance camera pictures of the husky Black hauling documents out of his offices and loading them in his car. His attorneys argued that there were other copies of the documents in the hands of regulators and that he eventually gave them back.
The photos were key to his conviction on the obstruction of justice charge, jurors said.
“That definitely showed he took them out,” Kadisak said.
Reaching a consensus on some of the other counts was not as easy, though.
Jurors struggled with a wire fraud count stemming from a $4.3 million payment to Radler from the sale of some U.S. newspapers. Prince said the jury was “pretty well split” on the issue. Ultimately, Black was aquitted on that count.
Kadisak said the deliberations were made more difficult by the excellent work done by attorneys on both sides of the case.
“One day you would be believing ‘Oh, they’re so guilty.’ The next day you would be believing ‘No, they didn’t”‘ break the law, she said