By: Mark Fitzgerald
Disgraced newspaper mogul Conrad Black should prepare himself for a long, hard time in the U.S. prison system, says the lawyer who prosecuted Enron’s Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling.
Though Black was found guilty on just four of the 13 counts against him, he likely will receive a stiff prison terms when he stands before U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve for sentencing Nov. 30, said former prosecutor John Hueston.
“The jury result reflects a classic compromise verdict, but like many such attempted verdicts, the sentencing outcome for the defendants will be almost as grim as a full slate of convictions,” said Hueston, now a litigation partner with the Los Angeles law firm Irell & Manella, in a statement.
Prosecutors in court Friday said Black should serve from about 15 1/2 years to nearly 20 years in prison on the conviction of stealing some $60 million from the company formerly known as Hollinger International.
Two of Black’s co-defendants — John Boultbee, 64, of Vancouver and Peter Y. Atkinson, 60, of Toronto — should be sentenced to terms of 7 to 10 years each. The third co-defendant is former Hollinger International General Counsel Mark Kipnis, a U.S. citizen.
Hueston closely followed the Black case, which he said resembled the Enron prosecution. The feds in Chicago, where Black’s 15-week trial was held, made two big strategic mistakes that nearly derailed their case, he maintained.
First, they relied too much on the uncorroborated testimony F. David Radler, the former Chicago Sun-Times publisher and Black’s longtime business partner who pleaded guilty to a single count of fraud in the looting of Sun-Times Media Group and agreed to testify against Black and his three co-defendants.
Second, they made too much of Black’s flamboyant lifestyle, repeatedly bringing up a trip to Bora Bora and the lavish birthday celebration for his wife — both of which the mogul largely expensed to the company.
“The government’s efforts to put Black’s lifestyle on trial almost undermined the entire trial, as it did with Dennis Kozlowski’s first trial in the Tyco case,” Hueston said in the statement. “By acquitting Black of the counts accusing him of fraud in using company funds to pay for lavish parties and perks, the jury signaled rejection of the theory that Black was motivated by greed to commit crime. This is the concern that we had in the Enron trial and what caused us to avoid putting the defendants’ lifestyles on trial.”
On the other hand, Hueston said, the defense ran a smart case — especially by keeping the imperious Black off the stand.
“Black has a famously bad temper, most recently revealed when he made an obscene gesture to journalists outside the courtroom,” Hueston said. “Just as with Ken Lay, a competent cross-examination would likely have resulted in a fatal meltdown for Black, the alienation of the jury and a full slate of convictions.”